Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: "Why We Came to the City" by Kristopher Jansma

The four of them were pretty much inseparable since they met in college several years ago—Sara, the editor who tried to control the group's every movement; her boyfriend George, the sweet yet anxious astronomer; Jacob, the poet, larger than life but unsure of what life he wanted; and Irene, the artist, flighty yet passionate, who has done all she could to put her past behind her.

"Back in Ithaca, these four had traveled nearly everywhere as a pack. While every other college clique experienced seismic shifts and occasional mergers, they had never grown apart."

One winter night, the four meet at a posh reception thrown by the owners of the gallery where Irene works. They encounter another former classmate, William Cho, who had always been enamored of Irene, but the four lived in their own separate world. And as the five enjoy drunken revelry after all of the guests have gone, William hopes for the chance to connect with Irene, George tries to find the courage to finally propose to Sara, and Jacob ponders the foolishness of love. But they all have no idea how the coming year will change all of them.

Kristopher Jansma's Why We Came to the City is a powerful, beautifully written book about friendship, love, and how we tackle (and avoid) the challenges that life throws our way. It's about the cocky confidence of youth, the feeling that everything you want can be yours if you just want it badly enough, and how you handle it when things don't break your way. And it's a book about how one person can have a profound effect on you, even more so when they're gone.

I really enjoyed this. I hesitate to compare books but its structure reminded me a bit of A Little Life in that while there was one character at its core, the book spent time focusing on each of the other characters. That was both a strength and a slight weakness of Why We Came to the City, because it drifted a little bit more than it needed to into the lives of the characters when they were apart from each other, but it was when they were together that they were most fascinating and most dysfunctional. I think I loved George's character the most, and while Jacob's character is probably the most fascinating, he was the hardest to really get to know.

Jansma is a pretty terrific writer, and he has created a rich, moving story that will make you think of your own friendships and your own youth (if you're more than a little bit removed from that period of time as I am), and how the problems which at one time may have seemed insurmountable really shaped your life.

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