Four Paws up for Ghosts of New York by Jim Lewis

I have to be honest with you. Pretty much all the New York-themed books I’ve read involve man-chasing, Manolo Blahnik-obsessed shopaholics. When I think of Manhattan, I envision Broadway shows, enchanting parks lit up with fairy lights and fashionable women strolling arm-in-arm down bustling sidewalks. I have since grown out of this chick lit genre, but the glossy veneer of New York life still lives long in my mind.

As you have probably surmised, I have never been to the Big Apple. Yet after reading Ghosts of New York, I feel like I’ve been given a tour by a local. To be clear, this isn’t a whimsical romanticized depiction of the city, but an unfiltered slice-of-life look into the people who live in the nondescript outlying neighborhoods, the studio apartments, the walk-up Brownstones. Told by an all-omniscient—in some cases prophetic—narrator, the chapters contain vignettes about troubled New Yorkers who are facing some serious blows—from losing everything to bankruptcy, to falling in and out of love, to realizing you can never come home again. The latter hits home with me, big time.

And therein lies the beauty of this book. So many of these stories are relatable to readers because the characters (Caruso excluded) are much like you and me. They’re not on a quest to vanquish evil sorcerers or to solve a whodunnit—they’re just making their way through this game of life the best they can. Needless to say, this isn’t a light read, but it was definitely worth my while because sometimes it’s good to lean into life’s dirty, gritty underbelly. Sometimes it’s good to feel these raw emotions and to know others have felt them too.

Deep stuff, I know. But hey, it’s good to go outside your comfort zones and read what I like to call “Intellectual Fiction,” not just for the stories themselves but for the beautiful prose. Hats off to Mr. Lewis for taking the art of writing to stratospheric heights! Most books I read are heavy on the dialogue, but this is mostly narration—a rather bold move for an author, but it works because it casts a voyeuristic effect. Some reviewers knocked a few stars off for this rather unorthodox story structure, but I rather liked it. The mystery of time was also an interesting, albeit disorienting, effect. Some chapters were told in the future tense, others in the past, but it’s anyone’s guess which decade we’re in. If I were to go out on a limb here, I’d say this was a nod to the “ghosts” theme of the book…because time and space is always a big question in the Great Beyond, isn’t it?

This review is turning into a novella, and I give you snaps for making it this far! There’s so much more to say about the poetic metaphors, the complex characters, my many questions about the mysterious virus and so on, but I’ll stop right here before giving away any spoilers. Even if this genre isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to venture off into uncharted territory and read something that stretches your thoughts about life, existence and the hereafter a little further.

Well done, Mr. Lewis! Keep ‘em coming!

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