Jazzy, cresendo-building portrait of the blackout that hit New York City in 1977, stitched together in a series of compressed bursts of imagery and critical readings and events.
“I begin my story in the last hour of light,” historian Goodman (Stories of Scottsboro, 1994) writes, showing folks going about their business on a hot July evening in a sorely tried New York City, wracked by fiscal crises, corruption, political incompetence, Son of Sam, and a rude patch of weather. Goodman proceeds into the night, through a collection of short, fragmented narratives and stunning word pictures culled from a variety of sources and impressively gelling into a panoptic view of the city, Bronx to Battery—and out there in Bensonhurst, too. It’s a fine piece of choreography, matching the color values of the scenes with musical tones of the chromatic scale. Characters and experiences emerge from the dark, take their place on the stage for a moment, then merge back into the night after performing acts of kindness, generosity, patience, and good humor—or mayhem and meanness. Looters explain their thefts, Mayor Beame postures, Con Ed dodges, Boz Scaggs has to cancel because he needs electricity for his guitar, and the Linden Woodwind Quintet also cancels because they need to read their sheet music, but Simon Hench plays on in Otherwise Engaged. The New York Times goes to bed, but the sheets are short; a thief feels his heart play the tango when he spies a police officer standing outside the window that the thief had just broken through. As day breaks, Goodman considers the city’s flammable social fabric, relates the insurance companies’ quibbles, profiles the looters, and gives a brilliant walkthrough of the crisis in the electrical lines. An afterword relates details of the 2003 blackout that affected New York and many other parts of eastern North America.
A layered dance of characters and events on shifting ground, handled by letting the seismic disturbances settle where they may for us to watch and wonder.