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Reader's Den in August: Slaves of New York
We continue with a New York-themed Reader's Den this month—featuring Tama Janowitz's collection of intertwined stories set in Manhattan in the 1980s—Slaves of New York. Artists, dealers, junkies, prostitutes, and writers are just some of the colorful characters envisioned in what could be considered a post-modernist comedy of manners. Stumbling towards equal parts fame and/or the gutter, the common threads of precarious real estate situations, often embroiled in difficult romantic relationships, keeps several of the characters 'enslaved' to their apartment situation.
Eleanor, a quirky young woman who makes equally quirky jewelry—is the insecure but endearing backbone of the book. She lives with an up-and-coming downtown artist named Stash (based loosely on the real-life graffiti artist Stash) in a state of semi-squalor. She preserves through haughty downtown loft parties, thankless jobs, and unwarranted derisive comments from Stash without negligible damage to her spirit. Other characters include Marley Montello, an artist who's great conceit is to build 'The Chapel of Jesus Christ as a Women" next to the Vatican in Rome, and his jaded dealer Ginger, who gave up her own dreams of becoming an artist to exploit the talents of others.
Although the characters are rather egotistical and oft-deluded, this soapy, deadpan sketch of the NY Downtown art scene of the 1980s is nonetheless a colorful retelling of a time now possibly as quaint and long-departed as Edith Wharton's New York earlier in the same century. SoHo in the 1970s and 1980s fostered a strong community of artists in former warehouses-cum-lofts under the Artist-in-Residence zoning law, which REQUIRED that at least one artist (certified by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs) lived in a building in this particular neighborhood.
- Have you ever felt like a slave to your apartment situation?
- New Yorkers love to slap labels on people based on the neighborhoods that live in (Yuppies, Hipsters, etc.) Why do you think that is? Do you think it happens in other cities to the same extent?
- Do you think Williamsburg is the contemporary equivalent of SoHo in the 1980s? Why or why not?