Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dispatch From the Fields: Joe Takes a Break From The Fields To Praise Sicha's Debut

"Choire Sicha's first book has "An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City," as the subtitle says. To be honest, within two paragraphs, I was reading this book as if it were a novel, and it satisfied my novel-loving side immensely. This is not your normal quasi-novelistic non-fiction story. The story surrounds a group of young, gay men in the unnamed large city on the Eastern Coast of an unnamed large, possibly fading-in-glory nation. The mayor of this city is its richest citizen, the governor of this state is embroiled in scandal, and the citizens of this city are oblivious to the world beyond their lives. The story is told as if the reader is completely unfamiliar with life in 2009 in what to us is New York City. I will admit to sometimes getting the individual characters of the story mixed up with one another, but also didn't think it upset my enjoyment of this book. 

The young men in Very Recent History are consumed with finding sex, finding pleasure, and finding money. For most of them, money is scarce and everything is expensive in this city. They are all aware of the wealth surrounding them, and ruling them, but that wealth is more out of reach every day. They must make decisions between eating meals and paying bills, when the search for a needed new pair of jeans succumbs to the realities of needing a place to live and stuff to eat as well. The book is interspersed with news items from 2009, of the foibles of the political elite, of the ever-growing power of corporations, and of the nearly-invisible depletion of hope for most. It is the story of our time, told through a distant, unemotional lens. I believe it is this choice of Sicha's that makes this book so immediate: I feel so caught up in my daily life that though I suspect the world may be falling apart around me, it is hard to pinpoint that reality in the lives around me. But while reading Very Recent History, I began to see the reality this book describes all around me. It left me feeling sad, and upset, and exhilarated to think there is still time to change things. I found this book to be not only brilliant, but important, as it so aptly describes the path our nation seems to be on, toward more money for few and much fewer for most. 

Choire Sicha's Very Recent History is an excellent book."


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