Lasting City: The Anatomy of Nostalgia

Overview

The darkly intense Irish-American family drama come alive like never before in this "virtuosic meta-memoir" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
“The blood-red of Manhattan, the brilliant green of an Irish-American wake, the blue-rinsed divas of the opera and the bathhouse alike” (Michael Gorra) are hypnotically rendered in this “astoundingly smart book” (John Waters). With some of the most lyrical cadences in recent literature, the legendary James McCourt animates ...
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Lasting City: The Anatomy of Nostalgia

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Overview

The darkly intense Irish-American family drama come alive like never before in this "virtuosic meta-memoir" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
“The blood-red of Manhattan, the brilliant green of an Irish-American wake, the blue-rinsed divas of the opera and the bathhouse alike” (Michael Gorra) are hypnotically rendered in this “astoundingly smart book” (John Waters). With some of the most lyrical cadences in recent literature, the legendary James McCourt animates twentieth-century New York through a “kaleidoscope of sharp-edged, brilliantly colored memories” (J. D. McClatchy) and with “dynamic prose and high-brow erudition that has gone the way of the dodo” (Publishers Weekly). Braiding a nostalgic portrait of the eternal city with a boy’s funny, guttersnipe precocity and outrageous coming-of-age in the 1940s and 1950s, McCourt revisits the fantasy city of his youth with Proustian memories of steam calliopes in Central Park, Hiroshima “obliterated in a flash of light,” and closing his mother’s eyes for the last time. As sensational as it is satisfying, Lasting City, a profoundly American work, identifies the spot where genius and madness meet.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/12/2013
In this virtuosic meta-memoir, author McCourt (Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Queer Street) careens along the course of his life while exposing the voluble convolutions of his troubled Irish-Catholic family and documenting several long-lost New Yorks. Raised in Queens in a religious family—albeit one with liberal leanings—McCourt didn’t so much wrestle with his identity as he did embrace the subterranean antics needed to be a sexually active gay adolescent in the 1950s. His explorations took him to the cruising spots of his time—from the Ramble in Central Park to the West Side piers—while he also indulged his interests in musical theater and high culture. The book opens with the death of McCourt’s mother, but the structure is anything but linear. Rather, it develops, or drifts, through a series of motifs that include reconstructed key events, fantasy sequences, and imagined interlocutors such as an Indian cabbie and a fellow named Moriarity. McCourt spends as much time reminiscing about family dynamics as he does about his sexual adventuring, in an age when such adventures could leave you beaten, imprisoned, or dead; but the allure of this book is McCourt’s dynamic prose and high-brow erudition that has gone the way of the dodo. McCourt has preserved on paper the intellectual climate that helped to make New York City the edgy capital of the 20th Century. (Oct.)
John Waters
“Here's an author who isn’t afraid to admit he's 'longing for the gutter'. James McCourt writes like a brilliant ghost who whispers into our ears forgotten New York bar names and long-gone secret sex locations and makes any reader young enough not to have been there feel embarrassed. Lasting City gives 'old school' queer nostalgia a radical, hilarious new edge. It’s an astoundingly smart book.”
Timothy Young - The Yale Review
“He is our modern Tristram Shandy…inching ever toward the moment of his birth, and yet already performing his life with grand gestures in front of our eyes.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-01
A creatively executed memoir rekindling the epoch of an eccentric native New Yorker. The "lasting city" in openly gay novelist McCourt's (Now Voyagers, 2007, etc.) creative chronicle is, of course, Manhattan. The author supplies autobiographical details through vacillating memories, both fond and painful, and weaves them together in an artful tapestry of fever-dreamed conversations, nostalgic poignancy and rich Gotham history. His mother's death in 2003 seems to be the catalyst here. Awash in grief, McCourt, now in his early 70s, writes of leaving her deathbed to desperately scurry into the city to share his heartache with strangers like an aging Broadway showgirl/diner waitress and an Indian cabbie, who both seemed to restore his faith in humanity. Further recollections detail McCourt's troublesome Irish-Catholic family and upbringing, which commingle beautifully with memories of his precocious adolescence as a burgeoning homosexual in the 1950s. Undeterred by the era's often violent consequences for indulging in same-sex carnalities, the author reveled in clandestine trysts on Fire Island or wandered Central Park's Ramble, "by night the haunt of the sexually intrepid male homosexual horndog on the scent." McCourt's drifting, serpentine narrative unfurls a lush and prideful profile, painstakingly contemplated and clearly written from the heart. The writer tells the stories of his gay youth, his family's melodrama and his own sweet maturation with an intoxicating amalgam of poetry, quotation, fantasy, and the kind of sweeping, colorful language that creates a kaleidoscope of precious memories. In the opening chapter, his outspoken mother, mere weeks before succumbing to the stroke that would cause her death, urges her son to "tell everything." From that instruction springs forth McCourt's shimmering opus of a unique, regretless and effervescent lifetime in the existential city of dreams. Vibrantly, blissfully sublime.
J. D. McClatchy
“Turned by a master’s hand, this kaleidoscope of sharp-edged, brilliantly colored memories continually shifts and shines, resolving at last into a grand parable of a soul in the city. Sly, scandalous—and sensational!”
Harold Bloom
“In Lasting City, the exquisite soul of Ronald Firbank lives again…Though McCourt provides an esoteric pleasure, it calls out to a dimension in all of us.”
Michael Gorra
“Lasting City offers us the most gorgeous—even the most Czgowchwz!—shards and splinters of memory, as though James McCourt had tossed a rock through a stained glass window. The blood-red of Manhattan, the brilliant green of an Irish-American wake, the blue-rinsed divas of the opera and the bathhouse alike: McCourt’s world is all here, a camp Runyonesque New Yorker’s New York, and more vivid than ever before.”
Fran Lebowitz
“Lasting City is a tell-all encyclopedia of wit, erudition and recovered memory for the gifted student.”
Booklist
“In this lucid, lyrical memoir, McCourt blends the cosmopolitan facticity of Queer Street (2003) with the campy, theatrical swagger of his Mawrdew Czgowchwz novels…. For all his light humor and stylistic innovation, McCourt does not skirt the hard facts of growing up gay in 1950s New York. The result is less autobiography than a powerful work of creative nonfiction, indebted as much to the New York of McCourt’s youth as to his honed artistic talent, reminiscent of both Woody Allen and Richard McCann’s Mother of Sorrows (2005). Intensely personal, unabashedly playful, and brilliantly inventive in its own gorgeous spotlight.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871404589
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 10/21/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

James McCourt is the author of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Time Remaining, Delancey’s Way, Now Voyagers: The Night Sea Journey and Queer Street. He has contributed to the Yale Review, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review. He lives in New York City and Washington, D.C.
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