‘The Slaves In New York’ by Tama Janowitz

Janowitz, Tama 1986

The Slaves In New York by Tama Janowitz, 1986

The magic trick:

Writing the material with immediacy and distance at the same time

A story like this is special. It is a time capsule, detailing a very specific part of New York at a very specific time full of a very specific kind of people operating at a very specific (im)maturity level. All very temporary.

To write something like that you can’t wait years and years to get the story down on paper. You have to capture it in the moment.

But what’s so remarkable here is that the narrative tone is one of wry commentary. It has an intensity of closeness to the material, yet it also offers the perspective and critique of someone looking back from 20 years on. And that’s quite a trick on Janowitz’s part.

The selection:

Anyway, this party was a housewarming for this couple, Mona and Phil. I didn’t know them too well. They had just found a new apartment on Fourteenth Street, $1,500 a month – Mona had some money from her parents – a real find, a sixth-floor walk-up. Phil was a carpenter, and so he could install the toilet and fixtures himself. Most of their boxes and stuff hadn’t yet been unpacked. For a while I sat on the couch drinking a margarita that had been mixed up in a blender and listening to Mona’s mother and father talk about their trip to China. They had deluxe accomodations at some hotel in Peking, and there was a lottery among the members of their tour group, and Mona’s mother and father won and got to stay in the Grand Suite, which had a fully stocked liquor bar.

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