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IN THE CITY by Colette Brooks


Random Acts of Awareness

by Colette Brooks

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-05108-0
Publisher: Norton

A slim, loosely organized collection of meditations on life in New York City.

Halfway between prose poem and memoir, Brooks’s work opens with a young girl opening an encyclopedia to study the neighborhoods of an unnamed city. As the girl grows enchanted, Brooks begins to spin a web of musings—most just a few paragraphs long—that focus on the grand themes and quotidian minutiae of living in New York. While steering clear of specifics, the city’s character is unmistakable. The first clue to location is a snapshot of the Statue of Liberty, unnamed, but described as “adrift in the harbor . . . with upraised arm.” Next, the author moves on to consider the history embedded in the architecture, remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist fire as she glimpses “the windows through which scores of young women once leapt to their deaths.” She notices what the city is reading on the subways, and what we have posted on telephone poles as lost and found—a gray and white cockatiel, a small poodle. Nicely captured is the peculiar mix of bravado and anxiety that New Yorkers experience: even if “we obligingly offer world-class terrorists an easy target, we will probably fall, in the end, from within, on that day when all the worn buildings and bridges and tunnels collapse together.” The work has the rhythm of extended internal monologue, the rising and falling of loosely connected thoughts in dreamy succession, questions and facts jostling each other. “Maybe it’s the city that’s telling the story,” the author hazards. A fanciful notion, perhaps, but one to consider.

Shifting viewpoints, open-ended queries to the reader, and a wealth of piquant detail make for a subtle, vivid portrait of an endlessly absorbing city.