New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read Danielle Steele's The Ring when I was 11 or 12 and, since then, I've been a sucker for books that follow a neutral item through history. I walked around my house for weeks afterward, looking at things that I knew belonged to my parents, wondering where they really came from and what stories they could tell. It's a fascinating way to learn history and it is telling that I still love that book, though I despise romance novels. And Danielle Steele.
Therefore, knowing my love for The Ring I should love Edward Rutherfurd, right? He has made a career doing what Danielle Steele does in The Ring but without most of the romantic schlock and with a larger focus; not a ring but a whole forest, or a whole city.
But New York left me a bit cold. Rutherfurd seems to have called this one in, with lazy story-telling, sketchy details and a choice to focus almost entirely on one family, bringing in supporting characters that eventually disappear. I wanted to know where Hudson's descendants were in 2001. And Pale Feather's. But I didn't get that and the book is less rich because of Rutherfurd's choice to make it mostly Anglo-centric.
Rutherfurd does follow a wampum belt around and it figures in the final moments but it disappears for much of the story and doesn't really provide the kind of thread that makes books like these extremely fun to read.
Rutherfurd does have moments of social-commentary clarity; when he describes wampum inflation, he gets to the heart of the difference between white man and native; to the native, wampum is worth something because of its inherent beauty and the concept that suddenly one would need MORE of that inherent beauty to buy the same thing that less of that inherent beauty bought last week ... well, that's just cheating. And in New York of the 60s, a bittersweet poke at old money's propensity for setting verbal traps for folks not in the know; "It's not Peabody, dear. It's pronounced Pee-bdy." And near the end, when you know Ruthurfurd is building up to 9/11, a lady at a dinner party goes on this gentle diatribe;
"I was reading Virginia Woolf the other day, and she remarked that at one period of her life, she was able to get so much done because she had three uninterrupted hours to work in every day. And I thought, what on earth is she talking about? Only three hours a day? And then I looked around the office at all the people working their fourteen-hour days, and I thought, how many of you actually spend three hours in real, creative, intellectual activity in a day? And I reckoned, probably not one. And there's Virginia Woolf achieving more than they ever will in their lives, on three hours a day. It makes you think. They might do better if they worked less."
Cue the towers falling and everyone re-evaluating their rat-race lives.
Cheesy, but certainly one of the most effective parts of the book.
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