An Irish Novelist Lands in New York

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Lasting City by James McCourtLasting City: The Anatomy of Nostalgia
by James McCourt
Liveright Books / Norton
352 pages, $26.95

 

“OBTUSE and infuriating, but…” A brief survey of online reviews for James McCourt’s previous work of nonfiction, the 600-page Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985 (2005), amply illustrates how sharply this idiosyncratic Irish-American genius divides his readers. Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, John Waters, and Wayne Koestenbaum have acclaimed his genius. But McCourt’s dancing, teasing, polyphonous prose has proved too much for others. One armchair reviewer said of Queer Street that McCourt “makes Edmund White look like a minimalist.”

Critic Bloom aptly caught Queer Street’s rupturing of literary form, terming it an “extravagant edifice.” Poet J. D. McClatchy got still closer, trumpeting McCourt as a “divine ventriloquist of the era’s voices, whether lowbrow, midtown, or high camp.” Certainly, McCourt adopts, animates, and mythologizes Manhattan’s myriad “different voices.” If the result sometimes veers uncertainly between polyphonous epiphany and sheer cacophony, it certainly gives McCourt a narrative voice that cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s today.

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