My first-hand experience with New York City took place in August 1971 as a small boy on holiday to visit relatives there. In the intervening years, I’ve visited New York 4 other times, seeing it from a variety of angles and perspectives. But never with a desire to live there. “Too big, too crazy”, I’d always say to myself. Notwithstanding that, I have had at times an overweening curiosity as to why other people (outsiders to the Big Apple, like me) have fallen so deeply, passionately IN LOVE with the metropolis that they have eagerly uprooted themselves to live and work there --- to experience “the New York state of life” and make it theirs.
Here in “GOODBYE TO ALL THAT: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York”, the reader is given entrée to the heart and soul of the City through the essays of a number of writers, who, at various times in their lives, have lived there and thoroughly immersed themselves in its culture, spirit, and its seemingly inexhaustible, frenetic energy. What is also equally revelatory are the essays, whose writers are Native New Yorkers (e.g., Emily Carter Roiphe and Rebecca Wolff) who later in life left the City to live elsewhere. It is one thing to take on New York as an outsider and then to hear from someone who has known it from birth through all its various changes and incarnations. From a city that tottered on the brink of bankruptcy and apparent irrevocable decline in the 1970s to retrenchment and steady renewal during the 1980s, to dizzying growth in corporate and personal wealth (a lot of it triggered by the dot com boom) in the 1990s, to the exponential boom in gentrification in its neighborhoods since 2000, New York seems to have now become more of a rarified, gated community for the wealthy and powerful with little space for struggling artists, actors, and writers to live comfortably and thrive there.
Reading these wonderful, insightful, and at times, deeply affecting essays --- with the exception of one essay I thoroughly disliked; the author, unlike the other essayists, spoke in the 3rd person with a smugness and arrogance that was very off-putting (to say the least) --- was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had this year. For anyone with the slightest curiosity or obsessive fascination with “the city that doesn’t sleep”, you won’t go wrong by reading “GOODBYE TO ALL THAT.”