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A History of Things Lost or Broken

By: Phillip Cioffari
Reviewed by: Van Newell
Livingston Press, 2007
$14.95, Paperback

Once Raymond Chandler had written about the city of Los Angles, it seemed that the only recourse writers had was to play catch-up with him afterwards, desperate to emulate the archetype of the sins of the city underneath the palm trees and sand, lost in some vortex of a city which was now already iconic thanks to Phillip Marlowe. New York City, as well, is an iconic literary landscape with disparate narrative voices from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Pynchon having already stamped out their piece of the city’s territory as their own and planted their flags that read, “This is me. This is my city, New York.”

Phillip Cioffari, author of A History of Things Lost or Broken, manages to cut his own little sliver of the city as well and in a refreshing twist he goes not to Wall Street, Greenwich Village, or Central Park but instead to the swamps of the 1950s and 1960s Bronx, filled with debris, both human and not. It reminds me of Phillip Roth’s Newark: working class, ethnic, and it reminds me not of New York City but of the American “every city.” As the title implies, the stories in the collection deal with loss, be it the loss of innocence or the loss of another’s love or another’s virtue. One of the strongest in the collection, “Bottle-Land,” deals with a boy’s loss of innocence toward how he perceives life and how he perceives his older sister, a prostitute who is sexually assaulted, and this assault is shown in a matter of fact way, in the pace of life, not in silent-movie melodramatics or a Dateline special or an HBO let’s-do-a-rape-scene-because-we-can-and-somehow-that-will-increase-our-artistic-worth.

Like almost every story collection, some of the stories are stronger than others, the weak spots being a story of a singer-songwriter and her manager and a baseball story or two (though this is understandable; it is difficult to write something interesting about a game which is inherently boring), but if you desire to take a look at a part of New York City that was not and is not frequented by us literary tourists you may want to look here off the beaten path of literary New York.

Van Newell lives in Birmingham where he writes, produces, and directs music videos and commercials.

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