Twenty-seven female authors on their breakups with the Big Apple.
This collection of essays on the theme of leaving New York reads like a manifesto of ambivalence, as the contributors hold forth on the metropolis’s charms and challenges. Unfortunately, the treatment of this theme lapses into monotony, as the observations, both celebratory (the culture, opportunity and excitement) and rueful (the expense, danger and status obsession), are largely uniform across the board. The particulars of the authors’ experiences similarly sound repetitive notes: Sensitive young outsider arrives full of literary ambition and naïve romantic notions about the city only to suffer through a series of tiny, overpriced apartments, humiliating day jobs, romantic misadventures, and senses of dislocation and crushing insignificance. The collection’s title comes from Joan Didion’s landmark essay (not included) on having “stayed too long at the fair,” and this raises the question of whether that famous work examined all that is necessary on the subject. There are standouts, however: Valerie Eagle offers a chilling remembrance of crack addiction, sexual abuse and homelessness, and Meghan Daum’s piece, “My Misspent Youth,” assesses the dangers of romanticizing the New York experience with superior wit and a compelling and original voice. The remainder of the essays—including pieces by Hope Edelman, Maggie Estep, Ann Hood, Cheryl Strayed, Emma Straub, Dani Shapiro and collection editor Sari Botton—while often poetically rendered and emotionally affecting, blend into an undifferentiated stew of bittersweet longing and regret. The writers represented here share so many common stories and feelings about their experiences in New York that perhaps they should have foregone the essays and just formed a support group.
Variations on a theme with too little variation; Joan Didion said it all and more memorably.