Novels On New York In The '70s
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
New York City has inspired generations of people to put pen to paper. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse recently read two of the latest New York novels.
ALAN CHEUSE: New York City in the '70s, a time of hope and cheap rent. What could be better? Valerie Martin, in her new novel, "The Confessions of Edward Day," narrows the focus even more - to young, aspiring actors trying to make their way in the theater of the time.
She's written a credible faux memoir about one man's life as an actor. Edward Day's story begins on a summer beach outing in New Jersey, early in his theater days. Fresh from the bed of a beautiful young actress, he falls from a pier into a raging ocean rip current, only to be rescued by a fellow actor. This rescue turns out to be a mixed blessing over the years.
Guy Margate, the moody and ferociously untalented actor, who's Day's savior, runs off with his girl. The way Day tells his own story of love, affection, art and his mirror-image life makes for a really engaging, ironic and yet, deeply emotional novel. Irish-born novelist Colum McCann looks at his adopted city through a much wider lens. Though his new book "Let the Great World Spin" offers no less than an intense vision of New York. It's August 1974, and a French tightrope walker has strung cables between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He's just stepped out to begin his epic walk.
In the city below, from downtown to the South Bronx, New Yorkers walk their own tightropes. There are whores, priests, drug addicts, judges, bereft mothers and glorious children. The novelist himself takes numerous chances in these pages, opening wide his arms to embrace the high and low, ordinary speech and lyrical passages that come as close to Blarney as an Irish writer can get when he focuses on New York.
He entered the noise of the city, McCann writes of his high-wire walker, the concrete and glass made a racket, the thrup(ph) of the traffic. The pedestrians moving like water around him. He felt like an ancient immigrant. He had stepped onto new shores.
BLOCK: That's our critic Alan Cheuse. He was reviewing "The Confessions of Edward Day" by Valerie Martin and "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann.