Low life

I found a copy of Luc Sante’s Low Life in a second-hand bookstore this morning and took a look at the preface over lunch. The book is a history of “the vices and lures”, “the lower classes”, and “the streets and alleys” of New York City from 1840 through the end of World War I. But what really catches the eye is the incredible writing.

For Sante, New York is “…a city and it is also a creature, a mentality, a disease, a threat, an electromagnet, a cheap stage set, an accident corridor. It is an implausible character, a monstrous vortex of contradictions, an attraction-repulsion mechanism so extreme no one could have made it up.” And, Manhattan, the core of the city and of the book, is “…a finite space that cannot be expanded but only continually resurfaced and reconfigured.”

Setting up the rest of the book, Sante writes: “New York has no truck with the past. It expels its dead. The dead, however, are a notoriously perverse and unmanageable lot. They tend not to remain safely buried, and in fact resist all efforts at obliterating their traces.”

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