Your City is not Your City or is it?

By Shane Solar-Doherty

I spent Thanksgiving weekend immersed in all things New York City. During my commute from Boston to New York, I read Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart’s novel set in a not-so-distant-future NYC, where technological savvy and physical attraction win you love and appreciation, and where book smarts and cultural knowledge only earn you disrespectful remarks and the stink eye. I was so wrapped up in the story that, although there were several references throughout the novel indicating landmarks and streets that I know very well, I could only think of Manhattan and it’s surrounding boroughs in the extreme terms that Shteyngart described — the towering poles on busy sidewalks where people went to inquire about their credit scores, the checkpoints where characters went through humiliating routines to get from one place to another, the people who walked around gazing into data streams and images being projected in font of them from little gadgets hanging from their necks.

To bring things back into perspective, I gathered my family into the living room the night before the big feast to watch Manhattan, Woody Allen’s flick in which he’s seeking love in all the wrong people. I needed to come back to reality (is that what Woody Allen’s films are based in?) and see NYC as it was and is. It was helpful. Things looked normal. And Meryl Streep was beautiful, which really helped too. And the next morning the parade was on, and a towering 62-foot-tall Spongebob float made it seem all was right in the world again. So I was doing fine.

But then I was back on a bus from NYC to Boston on Saturday and finishing up SSTLS, and NYC was once again some kind of creature that I vaguely knew and simultaneously wished I didn’t. You know what I mean?

It got me to thinking about writers’ impressions of their hometowns and cities. There’s a lot of ways to envision one’s community and surroundings. I liked how both Shteyngart and Allen were able to tell these incredible narratives that were set in the same city, yet, in each story, the people who populated that city and the way in which the city was portrayed were completely different in almost every sense. And I’m trying to think of other narratives that paint the same city in opposite terms. Is there an example like this for Boston? Paris? Des Moines?

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