A big ol’ content warning: this book is about suicide. Suicide is on almost every page. The book itself includes graphic depictions of suicide and bodies in a post-mortem state as a result of suicide. Though I won’t go into detail myself, there’s no way to avoid talking about suicide in this review. If you are triggered by suicide or have a history with suicidal ideation, please skip both this book and this review.
Along with Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, this is another New York City-based book I decided to read during the height of the pandemic. I actually discovered it while browsing a list of Brooklyn-based fiction and bought it once I saw what it was about. I’ve found that I need pandemic reads to match my moods right now. And I’m drawn to books that lament a fallen New York City.
This is basically two books in one. The first part is the worst part: the build up to the pandemic. It’s basically an underworked Gen Xer complaining about everything that’s ruining New York and ignoring the bigger problems around him. Yes, I know it’s satire. Yes I know it’s social commentary. But white guy whining about his problems while the world crumbles around him, whatever the context, is old and tired.
The second part, the pandemic response, was more my speed. Again, there’s a satirical element about people who stay around when the neighborhood changes. But there’s more engagement with the world, a sense of community, and a sharp critique of how politicians and the media will ignore problems where the solutions don’t benefit them. And again, the commentary about the emptiness of New York in a pandemic, the sorrow for what has been lost hit me where I’m at right now. It felt real.
As I said in the first paragraph, this book deals with suicide on a large scale. There were times it leaned into the grotesque. The writer allows his characters to be desensitized to it. It didn’t bother me as much as something like that normally would; I’m usually turned off by callous attitudes towards humanity. But given our nation’s poor response to the coronavirus, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
If you need a pandemic read and can stomach mass suicide, this may be for you.