"This marvelous book is a treasure chest of wisdom and humility and humor and discovery. I read it in one sitting. So will you." —Abigail Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of A Three Dog Life and Safekeeping
“How brilliantly Rebecca McClanahan marries New York to the country of her life and imagination, thus recreating the city. One lives with her in this beautifully-wrought memoir as one lives in a New York apartment—hearing the neighbors breathe, inhaling the tense air, scanning the prairies of the streets, and greeting the mysteries of strangers as though no one has ever seen such things before. ‘Play each scene as if it were new,’ she quotes her teachers, who she says are dead. Yet their words live here. It’s no easy feat to make New York new. This writer does it wondrously.” —Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times bestselling author of Making Toast and The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood
“This book—by turns witty, thought-provoking, and moving—invites the reader to reflect on urban life in contemporary America. A keen observer of much that often passes unnoticed, this writer inspires us to reconsider the meaning of the insignificant events and circumstances of our own lives.” —Kathleen Norris, New York Times–bestselling author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk
“The 9/11 essays in Rebecca McClanahan’s In the Key of New York City are wondrous, evoking the rich vibrancy of life in the city even as horrific events shadow the horizon. McClanahan, one of the finest practitioners of the creative essay in America today, daringly weaves the city and its creatures into a memorable and resilient testament: the world was changed, but New York endures.” —David H. Lynn, Editor, the Kenyon Review
"Rebecca McClanahan’s In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays from Red Hen Press, offers a timeless portrait of New York’s contradictions, which is to say, it provides a salve to the upheaval of now and acts as a reminder of the city’s constancy throughout tribulations...New York’s literary bones would appreciate this book’s structure, which mirrors McClanahan’s existence: larger, contemplative essays intersperse with brief, interstitial studies of people, moments, and objects, just as her long stretches alone are punctuated by walks in the park or rides on the subway...Far be it from me to announce anything definitive about a place like New York that defies categories. But there is this: no matter where we live, we are all, in our own ways, students of loneliness and suffering. But we are also students of beauty and imagination. In the Key of New York City tells us that both songs, sung at the same time, define what it is to be human."—Cate Hodorowicz, PANK Magazine
"Rebecca McClanahan’s In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays is an exploration of what it means to live in a place, and, in fact, what it means to live at all. It’s a haunting book, with many detailed glimpses into the everyday realities of apartment-dwelling, rent-paying, and meaning-making in a city that’s at once glorious and difficult."—Vivian Wagner, Brevity
"McClanahan has ordered these essays so their themes and motifs echo and build. This is what I hunger for: Books in which I sense the writer has taken her time to show readers how language and meaning are carefully crafted—especially when language and meaning are refocused via revision."—Tarn Wilson,
"Throughout these essays, she demonstrates the art of interpreting people through body language, actions, and the hints they leave in the marginalia of library books. She tunes into the undercurrents of human relations to modulate between the personal and social, tragic and laughable, profound and quotidian. She writes large and small the context of culture that will never be the same again. This memoir brings her life to light—and with it the lives of lonely people on park benches, revelers in Paul Newman’s return to Broadway, and children who lost their parents in the downed towers. It is a life-affirming account of the richness of our responses to hardship, alienation, sickness, and success." —Amy Wright, KENYONreview
A transplant to Manhattan from North Carolina reflects on the blessings and bothers of living in the impersonal metropolis.
In her latest, McClanahan, a teacher in the Queen’s University MFA program and a winner of two Pushcart Prizes, explores many facets of the New York City experience, among other topics. She writes about how she tried to import some Southern hospitality and meet her neighbors with some home-baked cookies only to discover that her gesture had been taken as a gross invasion of privacy. Yet she learned to navigate her way: with strangers on a park bench, with the removal of a squirrel from her apartment, with a grieving city following 9/11. In “Present Tense,” the author ruminates on infidelities, including that of her second husband, Donald, about midway through its 25-year (and counting) span. The author also examines her place in the other position, as the mistress of a married man who was not going to leave his family. “Books tell us it takes about six months for the initial passion of an affair to cool,” writes McClanahan. “It took the man with the children a little more than six months; Donald, a bit less.” Since the preceding pieces are comparatively lighthearted snapshots of life in the big city, it’s even more powerful when what follows is an essay dealing with her cancer prognosis, surgery, and recovery. In “Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy,” McClanahan clearly demonstrates how quickly things can change and become a matter of life and death in the wake of what had seemed like a routine colonoscopy. In the penultimate essay, “Our Towns,” the author deftly connects the home that formed her with the one she has adopted. Discussing her viewing of a revival of Our Town featuring “Paul Newman’s first return to Broadway in nearly forty years,” she conjures memories of the play everyone remembered from high school and the towns where they had first experienced it.
A pleasing memoir/essay collection.