From the author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (2013), a deeply emotional ode to friendship—to the people who make you feel alive and who you follow without question and to the bonds that endure, even if only in memory.
“We came to the city because we wished to live haphazardly, to reach for only the least realistic of our desires.” Jansma’s novel opens with an optimistic buzz as college best friends who moved to New York City five years ago are meeting for an annual holiday party. Fancy champagne is had, an engagement is on the horizon, a new romance is brewing, and one of them, the elusive but caring artist Irene, is avoiding all conversation about the lump she found under her eye. The seriousness of this lump is revealed early on, and the novel quickly becomes less about the intoxicating feelings of possibility the city offers to dynamic groups such as this and more about how tragedy can rip holes in this beautiful illusion. “No one was special” is a realization Irene’s friends come to at different points in their story together. It hits Sara, the micromanaging do-gooder, at Duane Reade while buying adult diapers for Irene. It affects George, Sara’s fiance, who feels helpless, and William, who has loved Irene from afar for years and must now consider the purpose of his life if she’s no longer there. While the story is set specifically in New York during the 2008 recession, and while Jansma seems to want the city to be the binding force that keeps these friends together, it’s Irene, and the power of her friendship, that achieves this best. “Irene…is a magnet,” George says, and it’s true that while the city gave the friends exciting lives, it’s friendship that makes them keep on living. “There are cities with just me, and cities with only you…and even one city that we all, each of us, believe in, that never fully leaves us.” Perhaps unintentionally, Jansma’s emotional tale shows that a city can be encompassed by a person.
This story is sad and sometimes overly sentimental, but Jansma’s narrative shines when he moves away from the collective experience and focuses on the lasting impact of individual moments.