Review: Never Can Say Goodbye – Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York, edited by Sari Botton

Review by Jules Barrueco

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cover of never can say goodbye book - older new york buildings with skycrapers toweringIf you’ve ever been pick-pocketed by a junkie, or roomed with an artist who painted with his own blood and semen, or watched two rats fight over human feces, then I have a must-read for you. Ever wondered why papaya drinks are always sold with hotdogs? Or fantasize about owning a house with storage space for reams of paper towels, but know you’re not fit to live anywhere but New York? Have you ever visited the City, thought, what if I just don’t go home? and, two years later, you’re still there and your stuff is still in San Francisco? Then you will relate! And even if not, you’ll devour this book anyway if, like the writers, your love for New York runs as deep as the Hudson.

Never Can Say Goodbye – Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York (Touchstone, 2014), edited by Sari Botton, is a new anthology in which 27 writers pay homage to their iconic city. The book is a follow-up to Botton’s Goodbye to All That – Writers on Loving and Leaving New York (Seal Press, 2013), which largely told tales of writers saying goodbye because the rent was too high.

The book contains some unremarkable pieces, a lot of this-happened-to-me-then-that-happened-to-me-then-I-was-sad-then-I-got-a-book-deal-then-I-was-happy-then-my-friend-was-jealous-then-I-moved-to-Brooklyn-then-she-didn’t-even-thank-me-for-bringing-her-to-that-party!-then-everything-was-awesome. It also includes some trivial a-funny-thing-happened-once pieces. And, for a collection that purports to be about “unshakable love,” there’s a lot of kvetching about restaurant closings, the High Line, and bars “filling up with the types of boring people I try my hardest to avoid.” As Jason Diamond noted in his essay, however, “Kvetching means complaining, and complaining is really what will forever keep New York the city it is.”

But for every average story, there is another unique and wonderful ode to New York, or a clever essay that genuinely entertains, or one with nuggets of wisdom so true you can’t help but remember where you were standing at the moment you felt the exact same way.

Like when Rosanne Cash said, “I once heard someone say, ‘We always thought she was kind of strange, but it turns out she’s just a New Yorker.’” And I said, “Amen Rosanne Cash, amen.”

Or when Adam Sternbergh recalled that he’d “long been obsessed with New York as a quasi-mythical magic city that somehow also existed in real life. Sure, New York is where Woody Allen lives, but just as important, it’s where Spider-Man lives as well.” Isn’t the fantasy of an elusive New York what makes living in the real one so palatable?

Maybe not for Phillip Lopate, who views the City through the lens of a realist, valuing its “piquant mixture of beauty and ugliness” which he “choose[s] to call reality.” In his distinctive account of being a lifetime New Yorker, “ruined in the crib for life elsewhere,” he opines with a welcome optimism that it’s “premature to mourn the loss of the soul of New York,” which he deems merely an “apocalyptic scenario, promoted by those who are tempted to quit it.”

Also noteworthy is Colin Harrison’s “disease”: collecting maps of the City. So apparent is his soul-consuming love for New York, and so interesting is his unusual manifestation of that love. “The things that happen to people have happened to me in New York,” he wrote. “Everything happened at a certain spot, a place on the map, my map of the city.”

Elliot Kalan brilliantly conveyed a glorious, mundane New York as seen through the eyes of a child, aspiring to be Kermit-the-suit in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Stephen Elliot, Issac Fitzgerald, Jon-Jon Goulian, Kathleen Hale, Julie Klam, Jenna Wortham, and others, wrote smart, funny essays that reminded me why I love this beautiful, revolting place.

Notably, for a book titled Never Can Say Goodbye, a lot of people said just that. Some couldn’t afford it; others weren’t good at it; another still “couldn’t wait to get the fuck out,” and did. Having read Goodbye To All That, I looked forward to a collection exclusively by New York’s loyal inhabitants, but to no avail, presumably since Botton herself said goodbye to all this a long time ago.

Nevertheless, the book was a gem, and a vivid reminder that, although we run through chicken innards en route to the R train, step over crack vials dropped by prostitutes, and fish dead mice out of our bathtub, it’s worth it to live in the same city as great New Yorkers, great writers, and Spider-Man.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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