So it took me the first half of Jason Shiga’s Empire State: A Love Story (or not) to work out the split chronology. Had I been more sensitive to the (in retrospect) obvious division of time (divided not just by plot events but by colour) I might have enjoyed the book the whole way through. As it is, I found the first half to be closer to pretensious and annoying than endearing or charming. But by the time our protagonist arrives in New York I cared about him and wanted his love plot to resolve in making out and babies. It doesn’t. Not a spoiler, folks, the parenthetical title gives it away.
The parenthetical title also gives away that this is a book by and for hipsters who like to read McSweeny’s and drink lattes that are appropriately foamed. Perhaps the best panels in the book (okay, a stretch and a lie) are those that depict a conversation about how annoying hipsters are when they’re talking about how annoying other hipsters are, not realizing they are the annoying hipsters about whom they complain. That Shiga is conscious of his hipster-ness and doesn’t (with the exception of those ironic panels) apologize (as he should!) being hip, is okay with me.
I loved the panels of Jimmy arriving in New York. Some might find the panels annoying because they are not oblique (and so hip), but far from annoying the scope entirely matches the experience of feeling small on arriving in a new city. In short I appreciated that form and content aligned, especially when I could see evidence elsewhere in the text of wanting to be jarring so as to jar. Annoyingly jarring.
I also loved the unapologetic consideration of what it means to be grown-up. A bit of a cliche at this point to describe a 20-something realizing that they’ll never feel properly grown-up (or at least a cliche for me because I think about it all. the. time) and not trying to resolve these feelings with any kind of revelation or grandiose decision to Act Differently, but just allowing that some people feel disoriented by their age and the expectations the world attaches to that age. Like having a bank account. Or knowing about espresso.
I also loved that it took me 1.5 hours to read. Something of a gift at this point in the reading challenge. Less than 20 remaining, folks!