Now better known as a fiction writer, Kincaid (My Garden, 1999, etc.) here collects “Talk of the Town” pieces written for The New Yorker between 1978 and 1983, offering a witty, quirky look at life in the Big Apple as seen through the eyes of a young, hip woman.
The essays include Kincaid’s very first assignment, a report on Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, as well as the much-talked-about “Expense Account” budget of a press conference breakfast and her final “Talk” piece depicting a recording industry party at Mr. Chow’s restaurant. In between there are myriad musings on concerts, promotional parties, famous people (Gloria Vanderbilt, Ed Koch, Richard Pryor, Sting), the Junior Miss pageant, and gatherings of policemen and hotel industry employees. There are also some unexpectedly moving pieces. One concerns a woman (Kincaid, of course) who rides a train from Cleveland to New York one snowy night. Another examines the difference between “early morning” in the West Indies (5:30 a.m.) and in Manhattan (8:30 a.m.), then reveals how a New York transplant from the West Indies fills the time until her friends and business acquaintances arise: by reading articles in women’s magazines “about Elizabeth Taylor’s new, simple life” and “watching the morning news for one whole hour.” Kincaid’s writing is casual and comfortable, laced with repetitive phrases that pack a wallop. Some of the essays once considered classics (i.e., a piece written in the style of a Nancy Drew mystery novel) don’t seem quite so clever anymore. But others retain the whimsical charm of the pre–Tina Brown New Yorker, as in Kincaid’s description of bow-tie–clad Sandy, the dog from the Broadway musical Annie, making public appearances and “looking sad-eyed, the way all dogs look when they are around people eating.”
Some readers may wish Kincaid had occasionally turned her sharp eye on high culture, just to counterbalance all the pop coverage, but her admirers (and those of the magazine) will find this an enjoyable diversion.