So here’s the thing: I live in Manhattan. I realize this admission may count as blasphemy in these parts, but I spend what seems like several night a week in Brooklyn, and well, there’s nothing like an outsider’s perspective to keep people honest. I also write about Brooklyn a great deal, in both my fiction and non-fiction, so why don’t we start there and see what happens.
The following excerpt is from my newly-released novel, American Subversive, a literary thriller set in the summer of 2010. It tells the story of Paige Roderick, a 29 year-old policy analyst who falls in with a group of political radicals after her brother dies in Iraq; and Aidan Cole a 33-year-old failed journalist-turned-gossip blogger. A few days after a bomb detonates in an office building above Barneys, Aidan receives an email containing a photograph of an attractive woman crossing Madison Avenue. Underneath are the words, “This is Paige Roderick. She’s the one responsible.” So begins a journey into the dark soul of modern America—from a back-to-the-land community in the Smoky Mountains to a Weather Underground-like bomb factory in Vermont; from Fishers Island, isolated getaway of the wealthy elite, to hip lofts and crumbling apartments of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Here’s an small excerpt from an early chapter in the book, when Aidan is discussing his life as a bartender in Williamsburg, circa 2001. I hope you enjoy it:
I fell in with a dodgy crowd of young Brooklynites: art handlers, line cooks, waiters, and actresses—always actresses—everywhere I went. We became nocturnal creatures, midnight poseurs, thrift-shop dynamos: thin-waisted and scraggly. Oh, life was heavy out there in the borough, laden with all the irony of the age. We lived on the cheap, carping like victims, carrying on like addicts. In the aftermath of the tech bust, money, like Manhattan, became a tainted word. Yet we cared a great deal about appearances, how far we could take our various guises, the many versions of ourselves. The truth, of course, is that we could never get anywhere. We were too sneering and self-aware, too busy mocking the earnest, the successful, anyone we didn’t know. We all get lost in little worlds, but they usually have a point—money, maybe, or love. But not us. Never has absolutely nothing been done with more style and determination than in early twenty-first-century Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Then came 9/11. I was still half-asleep when I heard the news on the radio, but I jumped up, grabbed my roommate’s bike, and took off toward Brooklyn Heights. The streets were full of people hurrying every which way, some going home, some to the waterfront. TVs glowed urgently through ground-floor windows. All the taxis had disappeared. One of the bartenders I worked with lived in a tall building near the promenade. We’d partied on her roof before, a bunch of us gazing at the lights of Manhattan as we drank from bottles of wine we’d smuggled out at closing time. And that’s where I found her that Tuesday morning, up there with dozens of others, staring out across the East River at a scene we’d never fathomed. A few people were taking pictures, but there wasn’t much talking. That would come later, and last for months. At some point the wind stiffened, and with it came that awful burning smell. Most everyone went back downstairs, but some of us stayed. We stayed and watched the towers fall. We stayed and watched streams of men and women course across the Brooklyn Bridge. We stayed and picked through flying papers—business cards, tax forms, résumés—shreds of people’s lives, former lives. No longer strangers, we stayed on the roof and held each other, wondering how the world would change.
We all remember what happened next, the days of mourning, not only for the lost, but for our newly vulnerable selves. As the rest of America found solace in blind patriotism, we New Yorkers, momentarily sincere, gazed inward. It was time to revisit the past—old girlfriends, shelved plans. For me that meant journalism. The world, through loss, had suddenly become a fascinating place, acerbically intriguing, almost open-ended. Who wouldn’t want to play a role in the remodeling? That winter, I applied to Columbia and NYU. Uptown and down, I could have gone either way, but only NYU said yes. I took out a student loan (my father had retired from financing my education), picked up more shifts at the bar, and spent the months before grad school lost in a haze of hipster nights.