“Wonderful Town”: New York Stories from “The New Yorker”

by Sophia Sakellariou, Staff Writer

Finding time to leisure read during the semester can be challenging. With dozens of reading assignments for classes, exams to study for and a social life trying to be balanced, curling up with a good book doesn’t always fit into a busy schedule. That’s why “Wonderful Town” is an ideal book for a busy student. Edited by David Remnick, this book is an anthology of short fiction stories from “The New Yorker” that revolve around New York in some way.

New York is the heart of American literary culture. Accomplished writers such as Philip Roth, E.B. White, Renata Adler and J.D. Salinger craft stories of wonder and emotional enlightenment of this magnificent city and they follow the triumphs and tribulations of the people who inhabit it.

Philip Roth brings the reader to the East Side in his story, “Smart Money” (1981), that follows writer Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s alter ego. One of the longer stories in the book, Zuckerman goes about his day in New York while struggling to avoid the haters of his newest novel who have no issue with confronting him on the street, bus and even in a diner. It goes against the grain in terms of the typical New York view of minding one’s business, but heightens the sense that the city is embedded with celebrities whose day to day experiences vary based on who they meet.

In Midtown West along the Park, Freddie and Grey, a newly married couple, fret over the looming birth of their first child in “Another Marvelous Thing” (1985) by Laurie Colwin. Grey stares out the window of her hospital room overlooking Central Park, as the days pass on and the stress builds. However, the little bundle of joy eventually arrives, and in true New York fashion its first car ride is in a bright yellow taxi cab.

“The Failure” (1999) by Jonathan Franzen brings the reader out to LaGuardia airport where Chip faces all of our fears— being the failure of the family. After picking his parents up at the airport for the holidays, he is reminded of how he is not where he planned on being at this point in his life. Chip went to New York an aspiring writer, but life got in the way, as it tends to do, and is viewed as another struggling artist in his parents eyes while his successful sister bears the burden of supporting him.

Downtown, the narrator of Maeve Brennan’s “I See You, Bianca” (1966), admires her friend Nicholas’ simplistic approach to life in New York. While others struggle with the demands of rent, chaos of commuting, and the seemingly never ending construction on every corner, Nicholas lives in peace with the city. His “modest brownstone” on E. 12 St. near Fourth Avenue consists of two rooms and lacks a sense of permanence, even though he’s lived there for years. If there’s a problem he fixes it and looks down at the bustling streets below his window with serenity as his cat Bianca stays close by.

With stories following people in varying walks of life in practically every part of the city, Wonderful Town functions as the literary guide to New York. The reader sees how this city shapes an individual whether it’s building them up or beating them down, but in the end, the craziness, exhaustion, and overall chaos of this wonderful town makes one that much more proud to call themselves a New Yorker.