A collection of short fiction set in, and sometimes evocative of, New York.
In his inaugural effort, Lawenda gathers four short stories and two novellas in a disparate collection set against the backdrop of New York, which provides not only a theatrical stage, but mood and tenor. In Magnificent Melinda, the first novella, Michael returns to his family’s summer home on Katogah Lake and remembers the first time he met his uncle’s young bride, Melinda. Then only 14, he was instantly drawn to her untamed spirit. Years later, after Melinda and his uncle Sammy have split, Michael bumps into her in Tribeca, and they quickly begin a torrid romance that eventually concludes, to Michael’s eternal disappointment. In the aftermath of her death, he revisits the scene of their first encounter and grapples with the meaning of the extraordinary power she still has over him. In “Lunch with Louie,” Steve is crushed by the lack of purpose and shame that torment him after he loses his job and can’t find another. He spends his afternoons aimlessly wandering Madison Square Park, and his marriage starts to crumble under the weight of his growing torpor. Then, one day, he bumps into an old business associate experiencing a similar crisis. In the final novella, Translation, Chella flees Colombia to become a translator in New York. She reluctantly turns to prostitution to make ends meet and encounters Anthony, who rekindles her love of art, introduces her to a rarified world of wealth, and restores some hope lost in love itself. Besides the New York locations, the narrative twine that connects these stories is a confrontation with despair as well as the opportunities for redemption within that personal darkness. Lawenda beautifully captures the revitalization that can sometimes spring from a date with the abyss. One could argue that these pieces don’t powerfully capture the inimitable flavor of the city; the mood is wistful and somber in most stories, when a soupçon of humor might have lightened readers’ load. Still, the overall emotional intelligence of the collection is notable, and the unadorned prose delivers its message with a Spartan power.
Worthwhile vignettes for the New Yorker in all of us.