Unseen City

Unseen City

by Amy Shearn
Unseen City

Unseen City

by Amy Shearn


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*GOLD MEDAL winner in the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards in Literary Fiction*

In a city teeming with stories, how do lost souls find one another? It’s a question Meg Rhys doesn’t think she’s asking. Meg is a self-identified spinster librarian, satisfied with living with her cat, stacks of books, and her dead sister’s ghost in her New York City apartment. Then she becomes obsessed with an intriguing library patron and the haunted house he’s trying to research. The house has its own story to tell too, of love and war, of racism’s fallout and the ghost story that is gentrification, and of Brooklyn before it was Brooklyn. What follows is an exploration of what home is, how we live with loss, who belongs in the city and to whom the city belongs, and the possibilities and power of love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597093675
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 392,498
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Amy Shearn is the author of the critically acclaimed novels How Far Is the Ocean from Here, chosen as a notable debut by Poets & Writers and a hot summer read by the Chicago Tribune, and The Mermaid of Brooklyn, which was a selection of Target's Emerging Authors program, a Hudson News Summer Reads pick, and was also published in the UK and as an audiobook. She is a fiction editor for Joyland Magazine, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Real Simple, and many literary publications. She earned an MFA from the Universityof Minnesota, has received a Promise Award grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and has participated in residencies at SPACE on Ryder Farm and elsewhere. Amy lives in New York City with her two children.

Read an Excerpt

There once was a woman named Meg Rhys. Haunted houses became a particular problem for Meg Rhys just after she turned forty, at the exact moment when—though it was true that she lived with only a fickle housecat and towers of books for company— it no longer seemed funny to go on calling herself a spinster librarian. Not that anyone said “spinster” in twenty-first century New York City except for Meg herself and she said it ironically, the same way she ironically cultivated the silver streak in her hair, which she felt lent her the air of an otherworldly eccentric until the aforementioned birthday at which point the loss of pigment promptly ceased to seem intentional. Above all, Meg wanted the map of her life to be intentionally plotted, a course charted by her and her alone.

But at forty it was too late to turn back—a hairstyle change would only attract the attention of nosy relatives certain that it signaled love or other retrograde “improvements”—and so she kept the piebald bun coiled around a Number 2 pencil that recalled to her the quiet pleasures of standardized tests. Equally symbolic was her bicycle with its Wicked-Witch-of-the-West basket, the bicycle itself a rickety second-hand number Meg had gotten good at riding while wearing the ankle-length skirts she wore not in an Orthodox or even Amish way but mostly for the swishy acoustics, weaving in and out of traffic entirely without imagining her body crushed by a box truck; she almost never thought about that at all anymore.

The librarian in her knew that no story was only one story.

Outside the other girls are giggling, twirling their hoops and sticks, their boots clacking against the flagstones. Their long stiff skirts swish as they move. Usually the yard is noisy with the clomping of horses and carriages battling Fifth Avenue, a rocky, rutted path that leads toward the new park up north; usually they hear medicine men and fruit sellers peddling their wares and herds of pigs snuffling along, the usual Manhattan cacophony. It’s a dusty part of town, far north of where most of the grown-up business is conducted, down in the sewage-and-cat-carcass-strewn streets of Tammany Hall’s domain. She can remember when she first came to the orphanage (in a spotty way—she remembers the orphanage seeming new and strange but can’t recall what life had been like before, or where, or with whom) that the land was even wilder back then, the stately plantation house seeming to rise from the dirt as if Miss Murray and the Miss Shotwells had grown it from a seed. Since those days, the sound of new construction has rarely ceased.

Today the street is eerily still, though no one seems to notice but her. She and Jane usually like leaning against the fence and peeking through the holes to catch a glimpse of the occasional pairs of fancy ladies promenading in hoop skirts and lacy parasols, making up stories about what they will do when they are fancy ladies themselves. But today something is different, as if her interior mope has transformed into weather. The sky presses down, gray as the woolen blankets on their cots. She notices after a moment that the air smells different than usual. She turns to an older girl. Tillie, does it smell like burning to you? Tillie shrugs, Another slum fire down in Five Points, I wager. She nods, though she is not satisfied with the answer.

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