Warren Adler presents a host of standard characters in clichéd situations in New York Echoes. Almost all the characters in these stories can be characterized as well-off apartment-dwellers on 80th Street near Central Park, and they all are as stock as cardboard. Couple this with flat, mediocre writing, and you have the makings of a story collection that only disappoints.
When the title, dedication, and introduction of a book all speak lovingly of New York, it would be rational to assume that the book will itself be, at least in part, a book about the wonder of the city itself. In most works of this kind, this is accomplished by rendering the endlessly complex landscape of New York’s diverse residents and regions. Adler has decided that none of this is necessary, so the only mention of the city is through a passing reference to Central Park or a story about a lonely soul (because clearly lonely people only live in cities). The reader may wonder why he even mentions that these stories occur in New York, as there is nothing distinctly New York about them. And by New York, I mean Uptown Manhattan. Forget lively downtown. Forget the outer boroughs. They receive virtually no attention here. There is nothing of the city’s colorful diversity in these stories.
The characters are equally colorless. Behold Adler’s capacity for profound and unique characterization:
“She was a loner, and because she kept her distance from the power crowd at school, she knew that her peers thought of her as bit of a nerd with her nose always in a book and when not reading she was browsing through her computer. In fact, she was ahead of the pack with her knowledge of the latest technologies and, while still not certain about her career choices, she suspected that it might have something to do with the sciences.”
The only impressive part of this description is how bland it is. Additionally, the characters’ motivations and conflicts are about as complicated as their descriptions, using the most average of techniques.
All of Adler’s style seems dominated by the strategy of telling the reader what obvious literary mechanisms he intends to use. Instead of painting pictures of emotions, he feels satisfied that the description “overwhelming, inexplicable, and profound sense of loss” is sufficiently evocative. One can’t even rely on the plot to carry the emotion, as his narration is just as transparent. The best stories feel like someone telling the reader about a story about a situation rather than telling the story itself; the clunky narrative prevents any engagement with the text.
There is little positive to say about New York Echoes. As a proud New Yorker, I was looking forward to a book that would rival Richard Lange’s Dead Boys, a brilliant volume of stories about Los Angeles. I would say that this book tarnishes my fair city, but it doesn’t really take place there.