Journalist and author Hamill (the novel Loving Women, 1989; Why Sinatra Matters, 1998, etc.) offers a chronicle of 250 years of Manhattan life as experienced by an immortal Irish immigrant.
Growing up in the Ulster countryside in the 18th century, Robert Carson was constantly regaled with tales of the chieftains and warriors who’d fought over Erin across the centuries. As a Protestant, Robert was inclined to have more sympathy than most Irishmen with the English and Scots—until his mother was killed by the English Earl of Warren and Robert’s father revealed to him that his true name was Cormac O’Connor. The O’Connors have secretly preserved the Irish language and the ancient (pre-Christian) religion, and Cormac is now inducted into the family mysteries. Vowing revenge for his mother’s death, he sets off in pursuit of Warren but finds that he’s left for America. So Cormac boards ship and lands in Manhattan in 1741. Soon, he gets work in a printing shop run by a German immigrant named John Peter Zenger, eventually becoming a kind of journalist who roams the city’s back alleys and reports the gossip and events of the day. In the aftermath of a slave revolt, Cormac saves the life of an African magician and is granted the power of immortality—provided he never sets foot off Manhattan Island. Not a bad deal, since it allows the ever-observant Cormac to be eyewitness to some of history’s greatest spectacles—from the American Revolution to the Draft Riots, from the rise and fall of Tammany Hall to the stock market crash. Oh, and that business of September 11, 2001, too. Like all real New Yorkers, Cormac doesn’t mind being trapped in Manhattan: He’s doesn’t even know there’s anywhere else.
A true Hamill piece: by turns fascinating, sentimental, hackneyed, and provincial in the best New York mode. It won’t play in Poughkeepsie, but there are plenty of New Yorkers (and New York-ophiles) who will love it.