by Todd McEwen
I have a particular affinity for books about living in New York. Call me unoriginal, but I'm obsessed with the place, and so it was with breathless anticipation that I picked up Todd McEwen's Who Sleeps With Katz, described on the inside jacket as a New Yorker's walking tour of the city he loves, a day-long reminiscence as he waits to meet up with his best friend and deliver some sad news: he has lung cancer. It sounded like a harmonious blend of friendship, pathos, and the nitty-gritty details of New York for which I so desperately hunger.
I should have been careful what I wished for. Who Sleeps With Katz delivered everything I'd expected, but to an almost intolerable degree of intensity. McEwen's protagonist MacK's seemingly simple task to meet up with his best friend Isidor results in nearly 300 pages of urgent, relentless memories, all serving to load the final interaction with nostalgic significance so thick it burns. MacK's recounting of the past paints a strange and wonderful relationship with his city and with his best friend, who is a bombastic yet endearing blowhard, but it's all buried beneath McEwen's massive gluts of erroneous details about restaurants, bookstores, bars, streets, the RCA Building (where MacK works), vendors, apartment buildings, and everything else under the NYC sun. Taken as a whole, Who Sleeps With Katz will entertain only the most diehard fans of the Big Apple.
Further complicating things is the author's style, a stream-of-conscious tirade that avoids proper punctuation and jumps freely around in time with little to no warning. McEwen has a wonderful way with words, but 270 pages of passages like, "Ah, the Fair--what a riot of capitalist waste matter--great--but the whole town was just bursting with fun, said Seligman. --Marxist fun?--All kinds (severely)." will eventually induce a headache no matter how well written.
The heavy Joycean influence combined with McEwen's incessant rambling, will distance most readers. But those who dig through the muck will be rewarded with a poignant depiction of a great city, as well as an amazing friendship too strong to be quelled by cancer, or the pretensions of its hyperactive creator. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS