11 March 2016

Books: Why We Came To The City By Kristopher Jansma (2016)

We begin at a New Year's party in 2008, with a snowstorm that is blowing through Manhattan. And while the economy is collapsing, none of that matters to a handful of guests at a holiday party. Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past. Amid cheerful revelry and free-flowing champagne, the friends toast themselves and the new year ahead—a year that holds many surprises in store. They must navigate ever-shifting relationships with the city and with one another, determined to push onward in pursuit of their precarious dreams. And when a devastating blow brings their momentum to a halt, the group is forced to reexamine their aspirations and chart new paths through unexpected losses.

In many ways, I found Why We Came To The City refreshingly old fashion in its tale, but also remarkably present day in its themes. I mean, we’ve seen many authors attempt to write a love letter to the city of New York, and we’ve seen many stories featuring characters moving through its veins, attempting to survive and live in a place that seems magical most of the time, but like a thief in the night, it can take things from you. So when you read the opening sentence, you almost become instantly hooked into the coda of the novel: "We came to the city because we wished to live haphazardly, to reach for only the least realistic of our desires, and to see if we could not learn what our failures had to teach, and not, when we came to live, discover that we had never died.”

I admit I was at first reluctant to read the book, feeling that we’ve seen this story before, but after reading Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards back in January, and the opening sentence of this book, I knew no matter what, I was going to be in for a linguistic treat. The novel is warm, often funny, sad at times, and a bit sentimental, but as a love letter to New York, it brims with so much charm, so much love, you can sometimes over look the over-romanticizing.

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