City of Strangers

In the opening pages of his first novel, Ian MacKenzie’s New York City is “exhausted, somnambulant,” a place where “the crowd is a tessellated sea of backs” and, on the streets, “the cholesterol of automobiles clogs every lane.” The stage is set for a story of loneliness, brutality, and failure. MacKenzie’s City of Strangers is a debut impressive not only for the rich, evocative language of its sentences but also for the way the author charts the troubled path of his alienated characters across the cityscape. Paul Metzger is a man full of turbulent emotions and unresolved family issues. His father, whose past as a Nazi sympathizer has resurfaced, is dying in a Brooklyn hospital; his estranged older brother is under investigation for insider trading; and his ex-wife is still a lover he can’t exorcise from his heart. MacKenzie brings all of these characters, plus a menacing mugger who stalks Paul throughout the book, to a boil in a novel that is one part Albert Camus, one part Philip Roth, and one part Martin Scorsese. Paul, anxious to understand his father’s past and desperate to reconnect with his brother and ex-wife, walks the mean streets of a city where strangers collide in a cold universe, mere “flakes of incidental matter.” As Paul soon learns, violence — both physical and psychological — is a force that’s impossible to resist in the unstable world of this bleak, beautiful novel.