David Schickler's debut seems at first to be a lot of fun: a gaggle of young Manhattanites with fancy jobs and fine educations chase each other around town, falling in love or not. In a series of linked stories, Schickler gives us a perverted heiress; a bumbling schoolteacher whose teenage student proposes marriage to him; a bad comic who finds his métier in off-off-Broadway theater. The writing is cool and a bit willfully naive: "Rally McWilliams was profoundly lonely," begins the title story. "She wanted to believe that she had a soul mate, a future spouse gestating somewhere in Nepal or the Australian Outback. But in Manhattan, where Rally lived, all she found were guys."
The mood turns dark, however, with the introduction of Patrick, a thirtysomething Wall Street trader who collects women and spends his evenings tying them up in his room. In short order the book's easy comedy is torqued into something more dramatic by Patrick's descent into violence. That Schickler doesn't play to his strengths is not necessarily a bad thing: one admires a writer who reaches beyond facility to something more difficult. But the transition from lighthearted sexual ronde to dirty realism is a bit bumpy. On the other hand, the novel's picture of a dark, desire-ridden Manhattan is an attractively seductive slice of escapism. The linked-stories format gives rise to a feeling of multiplicity, which is just the right tone for a book about a city crowded with pleasures. Describing James, a love-struck young accountant, Schickler writes: "His mind tonight was on the fine and the illicit pleasures of the planet, on their merits and dispersement. Some people cut daisies, thought James. Some visit Wales, or choose cocaine, or dig latrines for the poor and the weak." Everyone, it seems, is after something different. But it's desire itself that interests the author of Kissing in Manhattan. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Like figures in a strange, spiky, urban frieze, the characters of Schickler's striking debut novel-in-stories pose, strut and cross paths in a darkly romantic, surreal Manhattan. Their geographic ground zero is the Preemption, a Gothic apartment building equipped with an ageless doorman and a venerable 19th-century elevator. On the premises, a devoted wife bathes her timid husband nightly, a headstrong Princeton-bound high school girl proposes marriage to her English teacher, and a perfume heiress humbles a cruel lawyer. Elsewhere, at a few select haunts, a failed comedian earns celebrity status as an angry mouse in a stage play, a smart feminist is seduced by a muscle-car-driving chauvinist named Checkers, and a travel writer searches for the particular something that makes people wonderful. At the dangerous center of the eclectic cast is Patrick Rigg, a 33-year-old stockbroker who unleashes pent-up childhood rage by recruiting a devoted harem of young women and making them fall in love with their own bodies. Rigg brings most of the characters together for the Millennial Solstice Debauchery Spree, a 10-day bacchanal headquartered in the Preemption. But celebration gives way to terror when Rigg discovers that his favorite woman none other than the travel writer, Rally McWilliams has fallen for Rigg's roommate, introvert accountant James Branch. Narrated in a deliberately artless (and occasionally just plain flat) deadpan, the narrative draws its strength from the puzzle-like maze of its intersecting plots and its menagerie of characters with Dickensian names and modern sensibilities. Schickler is a fabulist for the 21st century, a skewed Scheherazade. Though there are thin spots in the web he weaves, his imagination and passion promise much. First serial to the New Yorker.
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