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KxBurns
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New York City

Although set at the turn of the millennium, the book takes place against a backdrop of very classic New York. The Upper East Side, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn are some of the neighborhoods that figure largely in the story, and give it an atmosphere of old school and cutting edge New York City combined. The very presence of the main characters in some of the neighborhoods they inhabit signals a turning point of gentrification.

 

Share your impressions about the setting of the novel, and feel free to discuss any personal experience with these locales.

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booksJT
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Re: New York City

I am glad it took place in New York. The areas that she selected to use are  close by. They are  just a train ride away. It is nice to read about familiar stuff. When you pass through those neighborhoods you can get  an idea of what the author is saying.  It makes the book more interesting when you can see some of the neighborhoods. I think  New York is  a melting pot of different cultural groups. People who are not familiar with New York can't picture the buildings or areas Joanna she is describing. I feel lucky that I am able to take  a  train or bus and ride through the areas. City life is quite different if you live in the suburbs. New York is always busy and open 24 hrs. There is always something to do here unlike living in a less populated area. I wouldn't  live anywhere else but here. I have visited other  places but there is no place like New York. There are so many opportunities for those who want them.

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LA-Rose
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The Importance of Setting

Setting is an extremely important element that helps to define the mood and tone of the novel. Additionally, setting helps with characterization; certain characters could not exist in different settings or else would lose an important element of their character, if they were placed in an alternative setting. New York City seems to be a perfect setting for this group of characters, being that it is known as the literary, artistic, and economic center of the United States. It seems fitting that an aspiring actor, publisher, musician, etc. is placed in this setting, while they are first starting out after college. Additionally, using a setting such as NYC that is relatable to many and well known, allows for the author to use the September 11th attacks as an event that influences the characters. An attack of this magnitude may test the characters, and further help to define them in their response to September 11th. New York City has historic background, as well as a modern element. The characters encounter and enjoy both aspects of the city, and learn to find their place in both the setting and the narrative.
"If you are forgotten, it is as if you have never lived. So, you must make yourself remembered: write a legacy." -L.A. Rose
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jpock
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Re: New York City

There is SO much detail about the city that it reads like regional fiction to me.  I got a little bogged down in all of it.  That being said, if I were from NY, I'm sure I would find it really fascinating to read about all of the areas that I knew about.

 

jpock

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Rosei
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: New York City

In my oppinion, reading a novel settled in a place I don't know is very exciting. We can construct our own view about that space and make insights about the streets and locations.

 

Throught the novel, I imagine a NYC very different from the one showed on TV, for example, or cinema or other books. It seems a more "kind" place, good to live and join people together. I'm not American, so what I know about NY is what I see on TV: violent, huge, impersonal.

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thewanderingjew
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Re: New York City

On another thread, I posted that I taught school in Metropolitan in the days before it was gentrified. It was a tough place to work. I thought it still was so I was surprised to read that it was being populated by the newly graduated.

I also grew up in Brooklyn, as well, and witnessed the decline of some areas so their rise again is encouraging. 
My daughter lives near Larchmont Avenue, in Larchmont. Both of my kids went to Columbia for their Graduate studies.  

I am also familiar with Scarsdale. I have friends whose kids live there too. I lived in Greenwich and shopped there, as well.
My children both came home to live after graduation, for a brief time, in order to save money because rents were so high. My house was vacant since I lived elsewhere at the time, so it worked out for us as they took care of everything.
Once, my daughter was looking at an East side apartment with four other roommates. All the parents went to see it. It was too small so we were shown something bigger. The parents wanted to subsidize the apartment for the kids and we refused. Needless to say we were persona non grata. The other parents thought we were horrible people who didn't care how our child was going to live. We felt that she should be able to afford it on her own or not do it. She agreed and found other roommmates.

Sometimes I feel that the book is too close to me for comfort and I feel like a stereotype without away to defend or explain the nuances of our way of life. It wasn't so jaded as the book made me feel it was.
I have been busy with family and so I haven't finished it. Maybe when I do, I will feel more comfortable with the picture painted about "us".

twj


KxBurns wrote:
Although set at the turn of the millennium, the book takes place against a backdrop of very classic New York. The Upper East Side, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn are some of the neighborhoods that figure largely in the story, and give it an atmosphere of old school and cutting edge New York City combined. The very presence of the main characters in some of the neighborhoods they inhabit signals a turning point of gentrification.

 

Share your impressions about the setting of the novel, and feel free to discuss any personal experience with these locales.


 

JSS
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JSS
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Re: New York City

NYC is the perfect setting for Ms. Rakoff's first novel. First and foremost, NYC and its environs just have so many different physical and social parts from which she can draw that it affords her (and hence the reader) a panacea of solutions for plot, character, and scene development. Also, NYC would be one of the few places in the U.S. with enough diversity to be able to draw ALL of the members of this group into the same geographic area while at the same time providing a wide enough variety of additional outside characters. Most young adults are searching for balance and direction coming out of college. It is natural for them to gravitate towards the energy provided by a city and its multicultural environment. It's a life adventure to which they are naturally drawn and Ms. Rakoff could not have selected a better backdrop for this first effort. Kudos to Joanna for affording the reader(s) such a rich and interesting read.
"I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth." Ayn Rand
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Jon_B
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Re: New York City

[ Edited ]

It's been kind of strange reading this book as a fairly recent arrival in New York myself.   I had of course heard, before reading this book, that Williamsburg was now some sort of hipster mecca - but prior to that all my life I had simply thought of it as the old Jewish neighborhood where my grandfather grew up.  But having been there recently I have to laugh at Rakoff's descriptions of the place as they are both cutting and accurate.   Some of her descriptions could easily apply to some of the recently-gentrified areas of San Francisco as well, such as the Mission District.  

 

I touched on this in another thread but I think in many ways this book has helped to reinforce something that I was already learning after moving here, which is that the old race and class social divisions are a lot stronger here than on the west coast.   Of all the major characters in this book most of them are of the same ethnicity and come from the same or similar socio-economic backgrounds and they are all members of a similar sort of micro-culture.   A culture in which any sense of "edginess" is fairly contrived with traditional values always just underneath the surface. 

 

Sure these are young people, they have the sorts of jobs that well educated upper-middle class young people fall into, I can imagine how they dress and how they carry themselves,they talk about certain books and bands and have certain kinds of parties.  But there's something... seperate.  None of these people listens to hiphop or R&B or any kind of dance music.  None of these people goes to clubs.  None of these people seem to spend a whole lot of time around people of different backgrounds from themselves.  People who are minorities, people who are gay, people from other countries, even to some extent people who simply come from more working class backgrounds exist mosty on the fringes of their lives and seem to stand out as an Other.  The only parts of the group who are truly involved in progressive causes are people like Caitlin and Rob - people who make a mockery of it, make it into some kind of absurd game.  

 

There are a lot of things that I associate broadly with "this generation" that the group in this book doesn't do, would never dream of doing.   That's not to say there is anything wrong with them and this certainly isn't a criticsm of Rakoff, who I think has actually represented things very well here - but I don't think these characters are even close to representative of "their generation" of New Yorkers and I don't think they are intended to be.   They are a representation of a very particular subset of that generation and a very particular subset of society in New York. 

 

So I think in some ways this book reinforced in my mind something that I had observed myself in other aspects - that America might be, in the long-run, a melting pot, and some parts of the US are more of a "melting pot" than others, but New York City is, by and large, a city of enclaves.

Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-20-2009 08:40 AM
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KxBurns
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Re: New York City


Jon_B wrote:

[edited] Of all the major characters in this book most of them are of the same ethnicity and come from the same or similar socio-economic backgrounds and they are all members of a similar sort of micro-culture.   A culture in which any sense of "edginess" is fairly contrived with traditional values always just underneath the surface. 

 


This is so true, Jon. I think it's very telling that Brooklyn is acceptable to the group because it's edgy, but suitably filled with cute restaurants and other people just like them, but the news that Beth is living in Queens is met with horror.

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thewanderingjew
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Re: New York City

[ Edited ]
Unfortunately, isn't that one of the things that defines maturity, the ability to make good judgements based on need and not making decisions based on appearance? So far these people have not grown up and they view everything from the microcosm of their own spheres of interest. In my reading, etc., I have found that most people think that way about all things when they are young and idealistic but that pretty much changes as they mature and develop different needs. This is why even when we vote, we all come from different vantage points based on our own private needs, even though we like to think it may be for altruistic reasons and it sometimes is, fortunately. Most of the characters have initially been motivated by purely selfish needs except for the anarchist couple and even they might be working for their own set of ideals as opposed to a better world view.
twj
BTW, is the spelling of judgement acceptable also as judgment? I found it both ways in the dictionary so I am assuming it is but I just dont' know which one is preferred. Does anyone know?

KxBurns wrote:

Jon_B wrote:

[edited] Of all the major characters in this book most of them are of the same ethnicity and come from the same or similar socio-economic backgrounds and they are all members of a similar sort of micro-culture.   A culture in which any sense of "edginess" is fairly contrived with traditional values always just underneath the surface. 

 


This is so true, Jon. I think it's very telling that Brooklyn is acceptable to the group because it's edgy, but suitably filled with cute restaurants and other people just like them, but the news that Beth is living in Queens is met with horror.


 

Message Edited by thewanderingjew on 01-21-2009 03:42 PM
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Read-n-Rider
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Registered: ‎01-29-2007
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Re: New York City

Okay, just for the record, TWJ, the preferred spelling is judgment, without the "e" between the "g" and the "m."  This is what I was brought up with and, just to be sure, I looked in my dictionary, which gives "judgement" as an alternate spelling, way at the end of the definition.

 

Joan

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thewanderingjew
Posts: 2,247
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Re: New York City

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will use the preferred spelling.

Read-n-Rider wrote:

Okay, just for the record, TWJ, the preferred spelling is judgment, without the "e" between the "g" and the "m."  This is what I was brought up with and, just to be sure, I looked in my dictionary, which gives "judgement" as an alternate spelling, way at the end of the definition.

 

Joan


 

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bookowlie
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Re: New York City

I loved that the book was set in New York City.  I grew up there and enjoy reading about the different neighborhoods.  In NYC, every neighborhood has its own character, even small areas within neighborhoods.  It's a world of its own, culturally, physically, socially.  I thought it was a perfect setting providing energy and possibilities for the characters starting out after college. 
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colibrarian
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: New York City

I really enjoy reading books set in NYC - I get to live there vicariously for a bit!

 

I am, however, beginning to tire of books that include 9/11 in the plot. In this particular story it's not so startling but there have been too many recent novels that have used it as a plot device. 

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Jennd1
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Registered: ‎01-28-2008
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Re: New York City

i think that New York was a great place to set the novel since there are so many distinct neighborhoods yet they are connected by the subway so they are also close at the same time.  The city of New York evokes it's own dynamic, not really as a character, but all the readers identify with it and our impressions of New York affect our impressions of the characters and the events in the story.
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Chatterbox
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Re: New York City

I'm not sure that there really is such a thing as a "classic" New York, because the city is changing so rapidly. Since I arrived 15 years ago, ares like NoLita, etc. have evolved and acquired names, the lower East Side has become hip and overpriced, Williamsburg has gone from edgy to overpriced and a bit too established to have the same edgy connotations, etc. When I first moved here, Smith Street in Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) was a street you didn't walk down after dark. Within a few years, it had become a restaurant Mecca, and now all the tiny hardware shops and places selling religious statues for the old Italians to display outside their brownstones are being squeezed out by trendy boutiques. I have watched that happen & Rakoff captures (albeit sometimes at tedious length) the external characteristics of the people I have seen strolling around. (I now live near Fort Greene.)

 

That said, I think Jon has an excellent point. 


 Of all the major characters in this book most of them are of the same ethnicity and come from the same or similar socio-economic backgrounds and they are all members of a similar sort of micro-culture.   A culture in which any sense of "edginess" is fairly contrived with traditional values always just underneath the surface. 

 

Sure these are young people, they have the sorts of jobs that welleducated upper-middle class young people fall into, I can imagine howthey dress and how they carry themselves,they talk about certain booksand bands and have certain kinds of parties.  But there's something... seperate.  None of these people listens to hiphop or R&B or any kind of dance music.  None of these people goes to clubs.  None of these people seem to spend a whole lot of time around people of different backgrounds from themselves.  People who are minorities, people who are gay, people from other countries, even to some extent people who simply come from more working class backgrounds exist mosty on the fringes of their lives and seem to stand out as an Other.  The only parts of the group who are truly involved in progressive causes are people like Caitlin and Rob - people who make a mockery of it, make it into some kind of absurd game.  

 

There are a lot of things that I associate broadly with "this generation" that the group in this book doesn't do, would never dream of doing.   T


 

This, to me, nails one of my biggest issues with the book. For all the similarities in structure with McCarthy's The Group, these characters are not leading revolutionary lives in anything but name. They are not breaking with tradition. Sure, they may feel that their devotion to the world of the arts is unique, but it really isn't, at least not in New York. You can go back a century or more and find people just like them. In a way, it would be have been more revolutionary and more real to have them venturing out of their cocoon and encountering the real New York -- which is that melting pot that Jon describes -- in anything more than a top down/abstract way. What happens when you move in next to a dope-dealing Puerto Rican whose idea of a party is to assemble all his friends on the stoop and blast the music loudly? There's a cultural conflict right there, on any number of levels. (That's a real life experience for me, and a learning experience). I don't see any of that kind of interaction, which is every day in my experience living in Brooklyn, especially, where you bump up all the time against people who don't share your values, your ideals, etc., much less your background, educational or cultural. The only challenges to these characters come from their parents, not from the world around them, to which they seem strangely immune. Even 9/11, while the atmosphere of NY is described -- it just didn't resonate with me. And I was here that day, lucky to be alive today. 

 

So, while the setting for this could ONLY have been New York, and while the color/physical landscape is there, for me the spirit isn't. It's an odd kind of dissociated New York -- a physical landscape but not a mental one. 

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Jon_B
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Re: New York City

[ Edited ]

Chatterbox wrote:

 

When I first moved here, Smith Street in Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) was a street you didn't walk down after dark.


 

It's funny, I was just thinking about this last night because I was in that area to go to the Trader Joe's (and if there's ever a sure sign of gentification...).  I got out at Bergen St. and walked a few blocks up Smith before cutting over to Court and the whole time I was thinking, there's not any visible sign, none whatsoever, that this was once a "dangerous" neighborhood.  And it wasn't even that long ago!  But I didn't live in NYC at the time so it's hard to imagine it.  

 

The area I live in now is an old immigrant neighborhood - Kensington- but it's not likely to be gentrified any time soon as it's pretty far out there (and the F train is terrible down there).  It doesn't have any kind of "edge" to it, it's not dangerous, just boring and run down.  But even there, the sense of "cultural conflict" as you describe is readily apparent in daily interactions.  A "melting pot" might be a good description for what Brooklyn is in the long-term, when you look at it several generations at a time and see that, eventually, these groups really do mix together - some faster and some slower - and end up all becoming simply New Yorkers.  But in the immediate world, the world of just the present and the very near past, it's more like the Balkans.

Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-26-2009 08:07 AM
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Maria_H
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Re: New York City

Less than ten years ago, there were tumbleweeds blowing down Smith Street.  I don't get sentimental about that, but the hyper activity of a particular class of businesseses and the clientele it hopes to attract makes me uncomfortable, partly because, on the surface and on paper, I am one of those they hope to attract.

 

And I'm not so sure about New York City ever becoming a melting pot.  As evidenced by newly arrived hipsters, old-school immigrants, and all those in between, people have always tended to stick to their own. The former Mayor David Dinkins used to call this city a beautiful mosaic -- a far more accurate term to me.

 

Chatterbox has a great point.  How many wide-eyed, newly-arrived, college-degree-clutching, Brooklyn-renting, aspiring-to-be affiliated-with-creative-culture, bar-hopping FILL IN THE BLANK have ever ventured beyond "their Brooklyn?"  Mill Basin?  Brighton Beach?  Any parts of Queens?  Or venture into friendships/relationships with those outside their coccon?

 

And don't kid yourself about Kensington not becoming gentrified for lack of better subway service, look at Williamsburg and Greenpoint.  I can't think of a more inconvenient line than the L or the G.

 


Jon_B wrote:

Chatterbox wrote:

 

When I first moved here, Smith Street in Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) was a street you didn't walk down after dark.


 

It's funny, I was just thinking about this last night because I was in that area to go to the Trader Joe's (and if there's ever a sure sign of gentification...).  I got out at Bergen St. and walked a few blocks up Smith before cutting over to Court and the whole time I was thinking, there's not any visible sign, none whatsoever, that this was once a "dangerous" neighborhood.  And it wasn't even that long ago!  But I didn't live in NYC at the time so it's hard to imagine it.  

 

The area I live in now is an old immigrant neighborhood - Kensington- but it's not likely to be gentrified any time soon as it's pretty far out there (and the F train is terrible down there).  It doesn't have any kind of "edge" to it, it's not dangerous, just boring and run down.  But even there, the sense of "cultural conflict" as you describe is readily apparent in daily interactions.  A "melting pot" might be a good description for what Brooklyn is in the long-term, when you look at it several generations at a time and see that, eventually, these groups really do mix together - some faster and some slower - and end up all becoming simply New Yorkers.  But in the immediate world, the world of just the present and the very near past, it's more like the Balkans.

Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-26-2009 08:07 AM



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liisa22
Posts: 606
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: New York City

Generally, I like regional fiction; I can 'picture' the area however I want it to look like.  In this case, I felt more like an outsider, not privy to the local insider's information.  I can't put a finger on why I felt like such an outsider.

 

 

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
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cindysloveofbooksarcCS
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Registered: ‎10-25-2008
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Re: New York City

Its always nice when there is a known place for the setting. For me its more real in the setting if its believable. It makes you feel as though you are there. I have never been to NYC but hoping to go one day soon.
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