You had better have developed a solid sense of self before cracking open this book. Every cliché on the jacket is correct, that it packs a serious punch, that it’s brutally honest, that its very writing is an act of violence. I have not experienced literary descriptions of such raw emotional turmoil since reading The Jungle. Except this one is far more subtle, and, frankly, brighter.
You could say it’s about “race relations” or “sexuality” but all that does is slap a teeny label on a massive exploration of human interactions. Set in late 1950s New York City in a supposed liberal bastion, this book really puts into perspective the ticking bomb that was set to explode into the civil rights, and later the “free love” movements of the 60s and 70s.
Granted, there were sections of this book that dragged out a bit. I just cannot relate to these bohemian social butterfly expats who flit among bars, always with a drink in hand, always ready to lose themselves in an adulterous affair or experiment with their sexuality. I’ve seen them in other novels, and I can only assume their authors are them or something close to it.
Having said that, my favorite part of the book is the honesty, clarity, and emotional intelligence with which these tough topics are treated: sexuality, race, interracial relationships, prostitution, policemen, suicide, the south. To paraphrase a quote from the book, “no policemen, anywhere in the world, were working for the powerless.” Well, writers are.