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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Book Review: The Game Café

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Stories of New York City in Covid Time

by Eleanor Lerman

I got an advance reader copy in my mailbox. A collection of nine short stories of people who live in New York – or who are travelling there – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

So this is a thin book, just under 160 pages. none of the stories actually feels complete. These are people, mostly single, all out of their regular occupations, but hanging on in a city that many have abandoned. Just as you are getting to know them the story ends and a new one begins. There are some common themes: women with long black hair and a taste for goth makeup. People suffering from severe back pain at a time when normal health services are no longer available. The author of the stories has black hair. Quite possibly she has a back ache too. She knows New York. People are attracted to the Village and Washington Square Park. But often find themselves in the less desirable outer limits of the subway service – but they are still in the City.

The epidemic is not over now. Not yet. But the mood has changed from when this book was written. People have stopped wearing masks – mostly. Travel has restarted but gets disrupted. Restaurants have reopened and people are using transit again, but in lower numbers. Management would like everyone to be back in the office but has to reluctantly accept that remote work is what a lot want to continue. Especially in places where the cost of living is high and rising. In the stories the idea that prices have dropped for desirable places pops up now and again but that is not what is happening now. These stories are of a rare time and a unique space. There is something special about New York City. And that magic – dead at the time of these stories – seems to be reviving now.

The pandemic is now far worse in China, which is where it started, and where lockdowns are still being enforced. Other places were not actually in formal lockdown, thought it might have felt like that. Cruise ships are sailing again. The planes are no longer just flying to reserve their spots at the terminals. But the chaos of lost baggage, delays and confusion are more to do with the impacts of climate – no longer “change” but “crisis”. Huge backlogs of cancellations and missed connections. A whole different set of stories, rather than the folks who managed to hang on in the City even if they no longer had their former well paid jobs, in the stories scraping by wondering what happens next while we readers are in what happens next, which is nowhere like “business as usual” no matter how much business wishes it was.

In terms of overloaded emergency rooms, and rising death rates, plus increasing numbers of people who have had multiple infections or who suffer from “long Covid” the pandemic is nearly as bad as it was at the earlier peaks, but now a high percentage have had multiple vaccinations which work – at least for a few months – but deteriorate rapidly afterwards. Public Health officials are still on the defensive. Simple ideas like hand washing and being kind don’t seem to have a lot of impact on an airborne virus that has the ability to produce a continuous series of variations, each being nastier and more virulent than the one before. We would like to think that we can learn to live with it, just as we have with the flu, the common cold and HIV – but that does seem to be an illusion. Nevertheless, there are indoor parties, the theatres and concert halls are open and the tourism industry seems to be back with bang. There is not a shred of this new reality in these short fictions, where time seems to have stopped. We do not mask very much. There are still many open schools that have no modern ventilation or even box fans surrounded by HEPA filters. Kids are getting sick – and not just with covid but all the other childhood diseases which have resurfaced thanks to a combination of political opportunism and vaccine “hesitancy”. Plus, of course, plenty of deliberate misinformation.

I am not sure that this reviewer can actually recommend this book. Some of the stories have already appeared in magazines and would have been timely then. Now? I am not so sure. Actually I wonder if there needs to be the sequels to some of these stories, so we know how these stories work out. If they did. Certainly good writing.

The following is extracted from the press materials that came with the book. I had not read this before I wrote the review above.

“For award-winning author and poet Eleanor Lerman, New York
City remains the most vibrant and important urban center in the
world. The idea that it would never recover from the pandemic was
an affront not only to New York but to cities everywhere struggling
to deal with the effects of coronavirus.
A lifelong New Yorker, Lerman was disturbed by pontifications that
the city was “dead,” that everyone was leaving, that it would never
regain its place of prominence in American life or be able to offer
the remarkable range of experiences that only a city with a diverse
population and a storied history of welcoming immigrants, artists,
workers, and dreamers, both gay and straight, could provide.
As writers do, she turned her feelings into inspiration.

The Game Café: Stories of New York

City in Covid Time by Eleanor Lerman

Mayapple Press

Paperback; December 2022

ISBN: 978-1-952781-13-1

$22.95; 6 x 9; 160 pages

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2022 at 11:09 am

Posted in Fiction, Pandemic

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