Review: 3:AM London, New York, Paris
Tales of the City.
"That therefore is the purpose of this book—to harness the talents of a diverse pool of writers, established and not so, to form a unitary appreciation of the world's three biggest cities."
This is how editor Andrew Stevens describes 3:AM London, New York, Paris in his forward to the collection. The question then is, does the title deliver? And the answer, in one way, is, well no it doesn't.
To be completely blunt about it, 3:AM London, New York, Paris's overall theme seems pretty superfluous. But is this really a bad thing? I mean, I didn't open this book thinking, "Oh good, someone has finally released a collection of short stories focusing on the literary links between these three cities." Of course I didn't, and I can't really imagine that anybody would be particularly interested in this book for that reason. What I was hoping for when I opened London, New York, Paris was a collection of well-written, interesting and enjoyable short stories from a group of writers that had been chosen by 3:AM, an institution I trust fairly well to do exactly that.
And, thankfully, that is what I got. Just look at their first collection, The Edgier Waters, or anything from their site over the last six years and I'm sure you'll agree that they know what makes good writing. But at no point in reading London, New York, Paris was I ever considering the theme in any great depth. To be honest, while reading the stories that impressed me the most, I completely forgot that the collection even had a theme.
Saying all this I feel like I'm doing the collection, and Andrew Stevens, a severe disservice. That is definitely something that I do not want to do. I loved London, New York, Paris. It is an excellent collection, showcasing work from some of the best writers around at the moment. I just found the idea of these stories as "a unitary appreciation of the world's three biggest cities" a little tacked on. For example, one of the arguable highlights (arguable because there are so many), Toby Litt's 'Girl 333', a fantastic story about a rock band leaving a groupie alone in a hotel room, told with the harrowing disgust of the narrator, has only the most tenuous of links to London. In any other instance that shouldn't be a problem, which makes it a shame that this collection has been lumbered with trying to fulfil an ambition which it really doesn't need to have in the first place.
But, like I said, this is a really insignificant gripe. So, I should try and be more positive. Looked at individually, this collection has some truly excellent stories. Nathan Tyree's 'Morning in Alphabet City' takes the idea of showcasing a large collection of unrelated characters as they go about their day and presents it with as much horror and brutality as it does compassion and tenderness. Greg Sanders' 'Neutral' achieves what all great short stories do; it really forces you to care about their characters in the space of only a few pages. In this case it's William, who charts his life's downfall in contrast to the devotion to his car, and, most likely due to the subtlety of Sanders' writing, you really feel as if you know him and want things to turn out all right for the guy.
Of course, it's not all great, but then what anthology can boast a contents page that is completely flawless? Andrew Gallix's 'Petit Guignol', Hiag Akmakjian's 'A Room on the Left Bank' and Joshua Cohen's 'Towards a New New York Protest' all left me fairly untouched and wanting to move on to the next story. But even then, it is not because these stories are particularly bad, rather just not as good as the unfortunately high quality of the work that surrounds them.
Looking back at the quote from Andrew Stevens' forward, it seems a shame that he decided to use this frankly unnecessary theme, because in no way does this collection as a whole say anything about London, New York or Paris. Certain stories do, of course, but not because they are part of this collection; they say whatever they say on their own merits. Stories such as Lee Rourke's (on London), Adelle Stripe's (on New York) and Fiona Dunscombe's (on Paris) offer perspectives of these cities that are unflinching in their honesty, beautiful in their subjectivity and captivating in their often poetic depiction.
Although Stevens may have failed on the second part of his intentions for this collection, he undoubtedly achieved the first and to a wonderful extent. If you want a guide to what's good about writing today and be inspired by some extraordinary work, then you should read 3:AM London, New York, Paris. Just don't go into it with any expectations of an overall message or else I think you'll probably be disappointed.
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3:AM London, New York, Paris by Various
ed. Andrew Stevens