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AREA CODE 212 by Tama Janowitz

AREA CODE 212

New York Days, New York Nights

By Tama Janowitz

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-32062-0
Publisher: St. Martin's

From novelist Janowitz (Peyton Amberg, 2003, etc.): an uneven but not unappealing collection of short nonfiction written primarily for magazines.

The 78 pieces included here are all over the map—mostly the map of New York City, though the author takes a couple of side excursions, such as her trip to China to pick up her adopted daughter. Janowitz is ready to tackle almost any topic in her trademark prickly, deadpan manner; strangely, that very flatness gives these articles their life. Chronicling everyday travails is her strong suit. She can grouse with the best of them, noting indignantly that despite being tempted at every corner by a fabulous restaurant, “the modern New York woman is expected to have the same shape as that of a really tough villager who lives in a primitive place and spends the day hunting and gathering.” She can explain what it’s like to live with a dog that gets depressed after losing a fight, and she can make her ferret-fixation scarily palpable: “I thought I had to smell a ferret or I would go mad. It was even worse than the six months or so that I obsessed with eating sand.” Some of the pieces are too short, most notably a narrative about being “raped” by butterflies, intertwined with the story of a horrible traffic accident she’s involved in. That’s a piece that cries out for more detail. A surfeit of material bemoans Janowitz’s failures in dress, hairstyle, and comportment, and she works the jaded angle awfully hard. (On her mothering abilities: “It wasn’t that I didn’t love being with her—I did, for up to fifteen minutes at a time.”) The highlight here is an overarching portrait of her home borough, Brooklyn, so sensitive that it’s hard to believe she ever lived in Manhattan.

How to find pleasure and fault here and there about the city, delineated with a pleasingly naked candor.