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Reader’s Den

August in the Reader's Den: Slaves of New York, Part 2

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Tama Janowitz and Andy WarholTama Janowitz and Andy WarholAugust will soon come to a close, and so we wrap up Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz, this month's selection in the Reader's Den.

As the stories attempt to tie loose ends with familiar characters such as Eleanor and Marley, Janowitz also weaves in some stand-alone short stories about some even more downtrodden characters, such as "Case History #15, Melinda". Melinda is a bartender in Alphabet City who takes in too many stray animals, and eventually, a stray boyfriend, who inevitably betrays her. "Ode to Heroine of the Future" is about Marley's sister Amaretta who dies tragically after a drug-fueled night by jumping out of a boyfriend's 7th story window. Marley's self-involvement is tempered, for perhaps the only moment in the book, when he confesses "It might have hurt me less if they hadn't published those pictures in the paper, the kind of picture that should be outlawed: my sister like a broken cup, flecked with dust and pencil shavings on the pavement." Even if Janowitz's observations and characters seem to perpetually linger around a chronically morose emptiness, she writes about it in such a humerously incisive way that it cuts through the dark cloud that shadows every character. I would even hazard to say that the final short story "Kurt and Natasha, a Relationship", about an S&M relationship between an artist named Kurt and a hairstylist Natasha, reads almost like Nikolai Gogol or Mikhail Bulgakov.

In 1989, the film version of Slaves of New York, a Merchant Ivory Production, debuted to muted success. Starring Bernadette Peters in the role of Eleanor, the screenplay was adapted by Janowitz with some divergence from the original work. Eleanor is a milliner of unique hats in the film version of Slaves, and Stash appears possibly even more snotty on screen than in the book. Despite its flaws, the film does a good job of depicting the gritty NY SoHo of the 1980s, and is rich with scenes of performance art and interestingly disinterested Downtown characters. If you are interested in learning more about SoHo's history and checkered past, check out a lecture happening at the Mulberry Street Branch on Saturday September 7th, Exploring New York's SoHo.

    Tama Janowitz and Bernadette Peters in the film 'Slaves of New York'Tama Janowitz and Bernadette Peters in the film 'Slaves of New York'
  • In the story "Life in the Pre-Cambrian Era," Marley is very egotistic. Is this relevant to the content of his art, or just contingent on his being an artist?
  • What characters in Slaves of New York interests you the most, and why?
  • Are relationships in New York more complicated than in other places? Why or why not?
  • Throughout the book, tables and chairs seem to constantly be collapsing. What does this symbolize?
  • Eleanor throws a party in the chapter Matches after her relationship ends with Stash. She says to herself during the party 'I wasn't having a bad time, I just couldn't wait until the event was over and I could genuinely enjoy myself. I was sick of having fun. I found fun very traumatizing, difficult even. In some ways it was more fun not to have fun. To me, having fun was almost identical to feeling anxious. I thought I preferred to sit at home by myself, depressed." What do you think of Eleanor's feelings about fun?

Find other books written by Tama Janowitz available at NYPL.

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Great photo!

What a great photo of Tama Janowitz and Andy Warhol! Inspired by your posts, I've requested a copy of Slaves of New York. Not sure how I've managed to never read it. Having grown up in NYC in the big bad 70's & 80's, I'm sometimes nostalgic for that time, so I'm curious to experience Janowitz's portrayal of the time and milieu.

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