It is difficult to say whether or not I truly liked David Schickler's Kissing in Manhattan [Dial PR]. I can certainly say some good things about it. It is a quick yet absorbing read which does at times manage to make a genuine impression. What seems to be a collection of short stories does cohere in the end rather nicely (a technique used for years by writers like Italo Calvino and one that I've always liked.) Still, Kissing in Manhattan suffers from a certain hipper-than-thou style of writing that many might champion as fresh or unique. I suppose it is but looking past the sizzle for the steak, I was left wanting more.
The theme is love, or, human interaction. Or both. Same difference to some of these characters. Most notably among them is Patrick Rigg who witnessed his brother's death at an early age and went on to realize what Kafka and Camus both knew, that life is absurd. So he grows into a rich young thirty-something who loves to carry a gun and picks up women, lavishes them with expensive dinners and dresses and then forces them to stare at themselves in his mirror after he cuts off their clothes. This character might draw comparisons to the narrator of American Psycho and rightly so, were the rest of the novel as equally caught up in the decadence of the rich and young yuppie scum. But aside from Rigg, the rest of the characters seem more at home in an episode of Friends. Personally I have as much distaste for Ellis' novels as I do for Chandler and company.
At least it is not a morally bankrupt book, or a book that is trying to say something about our society. The real enjoyment of Kissing in Manhattan comes from the lack of didactic social commentary. It might have been easy to make a book that centered around the bleakness of modern culture. It would have been successful and perhaps celebrated. But mercifully Schickler spares us the sermon and just writes a book about young people darting in and out of each other's lives, looking for something approximating love. Well, that is when he is not writing about psychos and their gun obsessions or tacking on an action-packed ending. Of all the tales I found myself most interested in one where a teacher gets a marriage proposal from his barely legal student. Perhaps it touched upon a fantasy for this reviewer or maybe it was just whimsical enough to be interesting without laying on too much hipster drudgery. But even this story suffers from the Raymond Carver ending, or non ending wherein too much time is spent working toward something that ends abruptly. The anti-climax, if you will. I believe the intended goal is to get us wanting more. It worked but not in a good way.
There is a good book inside of Kissing in Manhattan. It is not a waste of time and it does at least try and reach everything toward which it aspires. The trouble is, I am not entirely sure what it is trying to be. Is this a collection of funny, quirky tales? Yes, but the author seems to be trying to say something else, something more. I am not entirely sure what that might be but I do know that I don't care. I enjoyed it as a fast read between other books. It is funny at times, like a sit-com and touches upon depth at others. Like an overreaching sit-com. Not bad enough to be panned, not good enough to praised, Kissing in Manhattan is a slight book that will stay with you hours after you finish plowing through its 288 pages.