Love stories and urban studies merge in these nine examples of relationships uniquely shaped by New York City’s public spaces.
National Book Critics Circle Award winner and native New Yorker Sabar (My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, 2008) explores how life in the most densely packed urban landscape in the country impacts how people form relationships. Using interviews with real-life couples, the author attempts to illustrate how NYC’s adrenaline-spiking public spaces help steer potential lovers together. Sabar fashions these oral histories into cozy, seductive narratives, admitting to a modicum of poetic license. The book’s most impressive aspect is its multigenerational scope, as it features the stories of couples from the 1940s to the present. The stark contrast between the first two stories illustrates, in jarring fashion, how a postmillennial gentrified sheen has affected the city’s love connections. “Green,” set in the postwar ’40s, finds an impoverished Navy man from Texas who befriends, and eventually marries, an even poorer woman who sleeps in Central Park. In “Collision,” Sabar tells the story of privileged 21st-century 20-somethings Sophia and Matt, who wandered into their upwardly mobile Manhattan love connection. There’s also the story of the couple who bonded over their mutual morbid fascination with 9/11—an NYPD officer became intimate with a North Dakotan college student who was designing a 9/11 memorial for her architecture thesis project. The couple eventually got married on 9/11. Unfortunately, the author ignores the fact that the same civic attributes that foster occasional serendipitous matchmaking can just as easily make NYC the loneliest place in the world.
The astute urban theory Sabar adroitly integrates into each chapter mostly cancels out the collection’s cloying weaknesses.