Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: "Triburbia" by Karl Taro Greenfeld

Sometimes if I see a crowd of seemingly disparate people together at a restaurant, a sporting event, or other group function, I try to imagine their connections to each other, even invent backstories for them. It's an entertaining way to pass the time, and it often proves how what you perceive is often far from reality.

Karl Taro Greenfeld's Triburbia is a literary version of the same exercise. This book of linked stories examines a group of residents of the Tribeca neighborhood in New York City, generally over the course of one school year, although a few stories are flashbacks. It's an interesting and captivating look at a group of fathers who get together each morning for breakfast at a local coffee shop after taking their children to school, as well as their wives, mistresses, and children. To those outside looking in, many of these people seem to have it all, but when you look closely at their lives, you realize they have many of the same struggles as everyone else.

There's the sound engineer who realizes he looks like the police sketch of an alleged sex offender who has plagued their neighborhood, the sculptor torn between two women and lamenting his willingness to give up his dreams, the philandering playwright who discovers his relationship with his wife improves once he moves out of the house, the famed memoirist who finds himself accused of fabricating his books, even the Jewish gangster who can fix any problem except helping his daughter win over the lead mean girl in elementary school. And those are just a few of the characters Greenfeld vividly depicts.

Interestingly enough, most of the descriptions of Triburbia I saw prior to reading the book made a minor mention of the linked stories concept, so I was surprised as I began reading it. But although it took a while for Greenfeld to begin connecting the characters, once he did, my only criticism was that some of the stories seemed too short, and I wanted to learn more about the characters' lives.

This book was a tremendously fast and enjoyable read, and Greenfeld is a very talented writer who was able to shift narrative voice from character to character very easily. This is one of those novels that captivate but don't wow you, although when you're finished you realize you enjoyed it more than you thought.

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