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Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now Hardcover – August 11, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beneath Manhattan's ever-changing skyline, familial betrayal and guilt remain hauntingly constant in these three juicy novellas, the latest in Bloomsbury's Writer in the City series. In "The Year of the Gibbet," set in the burned-out, British-occupied city of 1777, a boy inadvertently exposes his mother as a spy for General Washington; after she is hanged, her ghost returns to torment him. "Julius" moves ahead to the Civil War era to tell the Jamesian saga of a weak-minded art student who goes insane when his wealthy businessman father breaks up his love affair with a lowborn artists' model. "Ground Zero" is the tale of a man who begins a relationship with a prostitute who keeps seeing the specter of her lover, a man killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. It's told from the viewpoint of the man's jealous psychiatrist, who gradually allows her voice of psychoanalytic detachment to take on a vengeful tone of post-9/11 paranoia. McGrath (Asylum, etc.) sets these stories against the burgeoning city and its stew of sublime aspiration, corrupt failure, and sexual and class antagonisms. He writes in a range of registers, but complicates each with a subtle, empathetic humanism.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


`As sharp and haunting as a daguerreotype ... McGrath's prose is clean, lucid and utterly transfixing'

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582343128
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582343129
  • Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 0.8 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,259,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
GHOST TOWN is part of Bloomsbury's Writer in the City series, in which a writer provides a story that captures the essence of a certain city. In this volume, Patrick McGrath takes on Manhattan and gives us three stories set at different times in the city's history, all of which concern a death. The way we die holds a mirror to how we live and each story provides a vivid picture of the age and the city.

"The Year of the Gibbet" takes place during a cholera epidemic. While waiting to succumb to the disease, Edmund reflects on the death of his mother and the role he played in it as a young boy. After the Battle of Long Island, in which the American forces narrowly escaped certain defeat under the cover of a providential storm, Edmund's mother gets involved in a plot to blow up the British ships holding New York harbor. Edmund's inability to lie spontaneously when he and his mother are questioned by British officers dooms her and she is hung as a traitor. Poor Edmund can never forgive himself for his guilelessness, even as his own time runs out.

"Julius" brings us to the Gilded Age. Julius is a puzzling disappointment to his father, a successful businessman. The boy's artistic personality inspires his sisters to rescue him by sending him to art school. The impressionable Julius is immediately smitten by his first nude model, a connection wholly inappropriate for a young man of his standing, and Julius's father seeks to put an end to it. The model disappears and Julius, devastated, loses his sanity. He is convinced that the model, Annie, has fallen victim to a sordid plot involving his art teacher and his father. When he lashes out in his own act of violence, he is confined in an asylum for decades.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Patrick McGrath's magnificent Ghost Town is a triptych of novellas about Manhatten. The opening story, `The Year Of The Gibbet' written by a man as he waits to die of cholera, in the epidemic of 1832, looks back more than 55 years, to the Revolutionary War of Independence, when he was a small boy, and his mother a Revolutionary fighting against the hated British oppressor, hanging these revolutionaries as subversive traitors.

The opening sentence, in my header will do a circular to the final story (more later)

The central character in `The Year Of The Gibbet' has been haunted by the horrific events around his mother's life and death, and, indeed, haunted by her ghost, and inhabited life of the margins of poverty

"There is little left to tell. Half a century has passed since The Year of The Gibbet, and the war has been transformed in the minds of my countrymen such that it now resembles nothing so much as the glorious enterprise of a small host of heroes and martyrs sustained by the idea of Liberty and bound for that reason to prevail in the end.

But I am haunted."

The second story, Julius, recounts the rise and fall of the wealthy Van Horn family from roughly the end time of the previous story to a period some 50 years later, and shows how class and race prejudice, can damage the lives of both oppressed and oppressor. The narrator of this story looks back at her family history, and the story she wormed out of her mother, when she was still small, about Julius, his sisters, and her grandparents.

The ghosts in this story are the ghosts of `what might have been, if only' which haunt all lives, and the ghosts of former lives, wasted lives, memory, real and imagined, and history itself, pressing on the present.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Patrick McGrath, an extremely talented writer (and one of my favorites), departs from his usual gothic weirdness and delivers three (mostly) conventional stories that reflect much of New York City's unique characteristics. But the stories were very different in quality,..

'The Year of the Gibbet' chronicles life in lower Manhattan during the Revolutionary War. I found it to be an excellent slice of historical fiction, and quite educational. But it was short, and so the author had little to work with in regards to character development and plot.

'Julius' describes the life of an extended New York family from the 1830s to the 1880s (and a bit beyond). We witness massive changes to the city due to population growth and technological advances. The author tries to inject some gothic horror bits but I think it comes off rather silly. But like the first story, I found 'Julius' to be mostly of educational value.

'Ground Zero' has a few eclectic New Yorkers, including a prostitute, a couple of her clients, and a therapist all trying work through the trauma that the events of 9/11 wreaked upon their already messed up lives. I find the dialogue and the author's keen observations of the human psyche in response to unimaginably horror to be most enjoyable. I only wish the author had made 'Ground Zero' into a full length novel.

Bottom line: three stories that represent something of a hodgepodge of history and psychological analysis. Recommended.
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