An episodic and hardly momentous account of growing into early middle age in New York City.
Beller (Before & After: Stories from New York, 2002, etc.) is a New York writer who really likes being a New York writer: this is ultimately the revelation of his latest collection. Ostensibly structured as a look into growing (or not growing) into adulthood, it’s really just a loose assemblage of Beller’s nonfiction pieces for various publications over the years. He has a winning voice that’s perfectly suited to a light magazine style, learned and self-deprecating (though not too much of either), enough of a regular guy in tone to seem approachable. The better pieces are about things, the tools of a man’s life. “Manhattan Ate My Car” is a funny reminiscence of the time Beller thought his ark-like 1977 Thunderbird—utterly unsuited for New York driving—had been stolen, launching into a city-wide car hunt only to find it weeks later a block away, where the city had moved it for blocking a parade route. Much passes in this very pleasant fashion, with some unsuccessful forays into talk of relationships. There are essays about the time that Beller tried to build an armoire for his girlfriend; his days as a drummer in a rock band; thoughts about why beloved T-shirts should never be worn in public; and a slightly more developed story about the struggling writer working at H&H Bagels. It’s great Sunday-afternoon material—Beller even worked as a bike messenger, a subject ever enthralling to urbanites. To say that it all doesn’t add up to much in the end would simply be unfair: this isn’t a book that wants to be meaningful, though it’s hardly trying to be pointless. The prose is well-crafted and smoothly delivered, and if a certain lassitude develops after reading too much of it at once, that’s because it was meant to be read in a more leisurely way, over, say, an H&H bagel and a coffee.
The definition of light diversion.