Two years ago I read Hamill’s epic love story to New York City, Forever. It was sweeping in scope, covering three hundred years of history with a raucous, bewildering narrative that included a lovely supernatural touch.
Tabloid City is yet another Hamill ode to Gotham, but as hardboiled and literal as Forever is epic and ethereal. It covers a twenty-four hour period in the life of a cruel and unforgiving city, the final twenty-four hours in print of one its iconic newspapers: New York World.
Tabloid City reads like a graphic novel looks: a collection of images, of snapshots with thought bubbles or brusque dialogue that run together with the semblance of a story. We spend snippets of time with a host of characters whose lives- some knowingly to them, some not-run together in the classic Manhattan-esque six degrees of separation. Some of the converging characters and storylines, notably that of World editor Sam Briscoe and socialite Cynthia Harding, of NYPD detective Ali Watson and his son Malik, of Consuelo Mendoza hold promise of a deeper, richer plot. Others are either meaningless -I’m thinking of fugitive Myles Compton- or so manipulated, such as amputee Iraq war veteran Josh Thompson – that you feel drained by the distraction. You spend so little time with any one character or story line that it is difficult to develop empathy for them or the trajectory of their lives beyond the confines of the paragraph.
But really, the pace, the coincidences, the Law and Order feel would work well for me had there been some variance in the characters’ voices. They all thought and spoke and behaved in the same staccato, film-noir, Elmore Leonard-like cadence. I have to think this was deliberate- Hamill is too sophisticated of a writer- but the result was very mono-tonal to me.
One of my favorite books of 2010 was Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists. It too dealt with the death of a print newspaper, had a host of characters that flitted in and out of the narrative, and even included bizarre backstory that could easily have swallowed the principal plot. But it works- it was fresh and clever. Tabloid City takes itself so seriously that you, as a reader, feel a bit beat over the head. With a wet newspaper.