Thursday, August 15, 2013

Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City, by Choire Sicha

Harper, 2013
256 pp

arc -- my thanks to the publisher and to TLC book tours!

Very Recent History is kind of a strange little book, but  I'm fond of strange books  so it was a good match for me. The place is "a very large and very famous city" of over eight million people, with a mayor who served three terms. It wasn't difficult to figure out we're looking at New York here, but the way the city is presented to the book's readers is in looking back on it supposedly from the future. 2009 is the year under investigation here -- another year of economic downturn in a city run by the wealthy.  The main character, "John," (who is most likely the author in a thin disguise) sets his story and that of a group of his friends against this backdrop, and shows how all of them were affected by the recession --  although he refers to it throughout as the "contagion" --  during this year.

I loved the snarky observations about pretty much everything -- wealth, power, politics, social media, employment, the high costs of apartments that only the super-rich could afford, etc.  The author also makes the point very clearly that in this city where the mayor (who is obviously Bloomberg) is the richest man in the whole place, and where John's young boss marries a princess with her own empire,   there is more than just capital at work -- that there are "things that lie beyond profit and loss and order and economy."  As he notes:
"And everything else that was free, the people you spoke with and the people you slept with, those were strategies of filling a need you could not address in a system of capital. Which is to say, the good news was that no matter how hard the City tried, or the owners in the City tried, it could not make absolutely everything about profit and need.
     People's lives would always seep out toward freedom, trashy or hilarious and messy or sexy or whatever -- toward things that lie beyond profit and loss and order and economy."

John and his friends definitely get involved in the "messy or sexy or whatever" while they sort themselves out over the year, all the while contending with their own problems created by the recession.  And while John  might be shallow, irresponsible with his debt and the little money he makes, and on about the same level as a teenager in his love life,  there's a point: he believed, as he told one of his friends, that
"... if something happened, you just had to move on. Not dealing with finances was a way of putting off dealing with all of these things. It was a way of putting off adulthood. Being an adult might be stressful, but so was being a child, and being childlike. That anxiety, and its constant presence, was what kept John on the run."
While one reviewer saw this book as an ongoing account of gay men trying to hook up, and another noted that it reads like chick-lit, I actually liked this one.  It's offbeat, quirky and snarky -- three components I love to find all together in a book.  While there are a few moments of grown men saying things such as  ""  or being overly concerned with adderall buzzes and other things that seem beyond stupid, on the whole it seems like a personal observation on a New York City run by the super rich and powerful -- and a firsthand look at the lives of a few living outside of that privileged world. While this book definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea,  it made me laugh a lot, and I liked it.

my thanks to tlc book tours,
and you can find the rest of the tour here, at the tlc website.


  1. This is certainly an unusual book but I'm really glad to see that you enjoyed it!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

    1. Unusual doesn't begin to describe this book!


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