The Colossus of New York

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Sunday, August 06, 2006
by Colson Whitehead #21

I began reading this collection in April shortly after I saw Whitehead read at Wordstock. It was a bit of a slow start for me (witness the four months it's taken me to actually finish reading it), but I put that down to getting sick in early May. My light-headed delirium did nothing to add to the already delirious prose (his delirium is the good kind, though). After that I got distracted by other books and you know how it goes.

These thirteen... well, they're not really essays, not fiction, but not NOT fiction either... it's sort of like tuning in to a specific New York frequency. It's not the only station, but you get a pretty good idea for certain rhythms and attitudes. The thirteen (whatever they ares) cover many aspects of the city: geographical (Central Park, Broadway, Coney Island, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, The Port Authority, Downtown, ), chronological (Rush Hour, Morning), elemental (Rain), or combinations including some or all of the above and that alchemical something else that makes a place uniquely itself. On the other hand, some things outlined are the stuff of life that happens to a person anywhere.

As I was finishing this collection, I finally got smart and started marking some of my favorite passages. He has a sort of loose yet controlled layered and rhythmic style -- it's like one long spoken word prose poem.

from Coney Island: Please adjust: parts squeezing out of bathing suits, parts having natural reactions to changing temperatures, the bashful edges of the towel, your attitude because it's really getting on my nerves I go to all this trouble why can't you enjoy yourself for once.

+Off season this place is dead. Don't tell anyone, but the Wonder Wheel is a gear in the great engine of the metropolis and when it stops moving systems fail. Amusement park rides are disguises for other things.

from Rush Hour : In buildings comprised of other buildings' thirteenth floors, sinister transactions unfold.

from Downtown: The DJ has scrutinized evolution and knows the back door into reptilian brain-stem.

+If the victims all got together they could trace back their misfortunes to this cursed payphone. It's the only one for miles in working condition and everything people say on it turns out bad. Urgent telegram from the Ministry of Unhappy Thoughts: Been Thinking Stop No Good Will Come From This Stop.

+Gargoyles have clambered down from rooftop aeries to replace his friends but he's not sure if he should do anything about it because they're quite funny actually and much more supportive than his real friends.
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