Thank You to Penguin Group Viking for providing me with an advanced copy of Kristopher Jansma's Why We Came to the City, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Four college friends in their mid- twenties have made New York City their home. Jacob is a poet, who makes his living working in a treatment center for mentally ill teenagers. George is an astronomer trying to hide his increasing alcohol problem, while he dates Sara. Sara works as an editor, while attempting to live modestly, like her friends, hiding her family wealth and trust fund. Irene is the enigma. She is a visual artist with a mysterious background involving her absent family and a tumultuous string of lovers.
The story begins with the reveal that Irene has a rare form of cancer that will likely be terminal. Just as she is diagnosed, Irene meets William at a party for her gallery. William also attended the same college, but he did not run in the same circle as these four friends. To him, they were an impenetrable foursome, whose tight bond was of mythic proportions. William connects with Irene and is allowed a periphery spot in their group, which is expanded as he dates and cares for Irene during her illness. William becomes an insider during a most pivotal, life altering time for these four friends, cementing a strange bond.
Why We Came to the City examines the effect that Irene's death has on each of her friends and the idea of the fleeting nature of time and youth. What is the boundary line between childhood and becoming an adult? How does a tragedy fundamentally alter not only us, but our deepest held relationships?
LIKE - Oh my goodness, where to begin. Why We Came to the City is a novel that begs to be read slowly and savored. Jansma's prose is stunningly gorgeous and wrought with so much emotion, that I could only digest it in small chunks, a chapter a night.
He handles the heavy themes of the story, especially Irene's death, with tenderness and compassion. The death was such an impactful moment, that I felt a sense of mourning for this vibrant character, as if she was a real person. It's rare for me to have this type of emotional connection to characters, but when it happens, it's a reminder of the magic of storytelling.
Even more mournful was the second half of the novel, when Jansma deals with the aftermath of Irene and the ideas of transitioning from young adulthood into being a full-fledged adult. Although powerful in message, it's melancholy in tone. The idea of resisting change and transition, even when it's forced upon you, resonates strongly with me.
Told in a close third perspective, I liked how Jansma took the time with each character, to explore their transition from pre to post Irene. Although Irene's impact is the common thread, Why We Came to the City, does not have a single main character. Jansma does a clever thing, where the reader even becomes a character in this story. I'm just ten years older than the characters, but I felt that their story, their life trajectory, mirrored my own. It was brilliant and affecting.
DISLIKE- Not a single thing.
RECOMMEND- Yes!!! Why We Came to the City is sure to be one of the most acclaimed novels of 2016. Jansma is a fearless storyteller with an immense talent. He's a "new-to-me" author, that I'm thankful to have discovered.