Sunday, April 22, 2012

My kind of town

Max is eating well, so I'm often to be found sitting in the same chair and I'm getting through lots of books - thank goodness for excellent Australian libraries. More by accident than by design, I read three books set in New York one after another.

The first, Pariah by Bob Fingerman, met my deep-seated need to read about the forthcoming zombie apocalypse so much more effectively than the current, colossally disappointing AMC series The Walking Dead ever could (although to be fair, I'm still persisting with the latter, two seasons in, in the vain hope it will lift its game from being a soap opera with the occasional zombie). In Pariah, people actually ask the questions that will need asking in the event of the dead rising: how did this happen? How will we survive? What will happen to the zombies over time? What's the best place to hole up? What's the point? A motley group of previous strangers are starving to death in a barricaded New York tenement, tantalisingly close to the doors of a supermarket, a small, unbridgeable distance away and guarded by flesh-eating zombies in apparently good health. Then someone wanders by in the street whom the zombies don't want to eat ...

The second book is more ambitious and in some ways more satisfying, being rooted in all-too-readily imaginable reality: The Submission by Amy Waldman reconstructs the process of choosing the 9/11 memorial for the site of the Twin Towers but imagines a scenario where the winning design, chosen anonymously from thousands of submissions, was created by a Muslim architect. Before the selection has been announced to the public, the selection committee is torn apart by the resulting conflict. The book was written before the controversy about the proposed Muslim cultural centre at Ground Zero, but eerily foreshadows it. The characters are complex, and beautifully drawn with their frustratingly dogmatic thoughts and opinions, never quite behaving the way they should, and never quite making the matter an easy one.

The last book, which I finished this morning, is a superior detective novel set in Lower Manhattan, Lush Life by Richard Price. It's partly a collection of observations from New York life and acute character sketches, and partly a traditional police procedural written with a keen sense of empathy. It's about wasted dreams and wasted lives, as in some way the other two books also are; apart from that they have nothing else in common except the city where they're set.

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