A memoir that proceeds by stealth and cunning, rewarding patient readers with some fine writing and provocative insights, though the short vignettes generate little narrative momentum.
A little past the 100-page mark, Rosenblatt (English and Writing/Stony Brook Univ.; Making Toast: A Family Story, 2010, etc.) asks, “Are we getting anywhere? Luckily we’re not going anywhere, so there’s nowhere to get.” And so it seems within this elliptical and evocative mixture of memory and dream. “[A]nyone can write a memoir about the events of a life,” writes the author near the end. “To do something originally yours, you must write about the dreams of your life, which are best disclosed in things you already know.” Despite the subtitle, the text more often is autumnal in tone, written by the septuagenarian author and writing professor to whom the “boy detective” is father (in the Wordsworth-ian sense). Though the present and the past of his native Gramercy Park blur and blend, it really isn’t one of those New York memoirs; only in certain sections does it offer what the author terms “the poem of the city.” The narrative hopscotches back and forth across decades and neighborhoods, daring readers (often addressed directly, sometimes as students, more often as pals) to solve the mystery or determine what the mystery might be. While belaboring the connection between the detective’s mission and the writer’s, he shows a safecracker’s precision in his reflections on death, truth and how the writer deals with both. Yet he resists letting readers pin him down. “Yours is the clarity, the shape and the theme,” he writes. “Mine is the shambles. And if I say that I am lost in admiration of you, while that is true, it is truer that I am lost, period, lost in everything. Nonetheless, I proceed even without a course or destination.”
Parts of this will resonate deeply with certain readers, while others may wonder about the point of it all.