The lives of young, poor New Yorkers form the center of this novel by Wakefield (Not for Rent, 1994, etc.), no stranger to squatter chic.
In 1995, a tattooed young woman named Sid hits America’s largest city with confidence: “I thought getting a room at a squat would be a cinch. These were my people, right?” But ingratiating herself into this world proves more challenging than expected, leading to a series of friendships and relationships, adventures and mishaps, all narrated in a conversational style. Sometimes this style is winning; other times—as when Wakefield writes, “I could hardly believe my luck. Lorenzo from Disguerro! He was so cool! We were going to be a team!”—it feels pedestrian. Wakefield clearly understands the mixture of romance and seediness in hipster poverty; it’s a believable world she creates, especially in long party scenes, which are appropriately chaotic, veering from punk shows to apartments and then across bridges. A particularly strong sequence involves Sid and her friends rescuing some personal belongings from an apartment building the night before the city tears it down. But sometimes the characters—young men and women interested in bands, poetry, and zines—feel interchangeable, and the novel becomes a swirl of meaningless names and action. The biggest problem is Sid herself. What makes her story worthwhile? It’s sometimes difficult to say. There’s a promising chapter when circumstances force her to move to the suburbs with her dad and stepmother; alas, the reader learns nothing from seeing Sid in this new setting, and after a few pages of stiff dialogue, she returns to the city. Will other readers find the squatting life as inherently interesting as the author does?
A book that Wakefield’s characters would love but that might leave other readers locked out.