La Life user guidebut in New York: a building, the Preemption, is at the center of the Comedy by David Schickler, its inhabitants cross from chapter to chapter, from intrigue to intrigue, their stories build an inhabited geography, a novel from the stories that are neighborhood lives. The book begins shortly before the turn of the millennium, in December 1999. It is a moment of identity and cultural crisis, but also the beginning of the days of “Great Debauchery” initiated by Patrick Rigg.
When opening new york comedy, we first think of reading a collection of short stories and little by little the stories mingle to the point of tying a romantic intrigue. The central characters of some chapters are only silhouettes in others, the suspense of one chapter unravels in another. It is the crazy life of a building (and, beyond that, of New York) that is seen here put into a narrative, in a singular style that David Schickler no doubt likes to define implicitly when he evokes the vein comedy of one of his characters: nothing about him really comes out of the joke, “they were short stories, little moments of life that rang true”, perhaps invented “as you go”.
Such are also the piquant chronicles, true and funny, of the Preemption, the building of the Upper West Side. He is the great character of the story and his constantly relaunched description expands from slice of life to slice of life. “It was a mysterious construction of brown stones whose roof was adorned with gargoyles, which dominated the Hudson like a watchtower”: The Preemption is less described than inhabited and even haunted, since little by little it changes in a fantastic and disturbing place, as menacing as its Otis elevator, the oldest in Manhattan, with its mahogany doors, smelling like a “library” or a “pretty coffin”. The building is indeed the radiant heart of the book, each chapter coming to focus the story on a tenant, a floor, a family, the whole novel crossing them and mixing them, with, around them, two disturbing and fantastic silhouettes, Sender, the porter of the Preemption, his strange scar in the middle of his forehead, his way of never growing old, and Morality John, singer in the underground, whose tunes accompany and comment on the plot, like the chorus in ancient tragedies.
All the characters are looking for love, as shown in the original title of the book Kissing in Manhattan. A gallery of thirties and dust seeks love, the unique, the true, the one that changes the course of life, the present, the past and the future. They all implement very different ways of finding it: from Patrick who ties up his conquests to force them to contemplate themselves naked in a mirror, to James who keeps a pair of opal earrings in his pocket to offer to the elected, from Nicole who wants to marry her literature professor, to Jacob and his “bath” ritual. Rally McWilliams wants to believe in the existence of his “soul mate, a future spouse in the making somewhere in Nepal or outback Australia” — or, perhaps, in Manhattan, because “sometimes things go that way. , it can happen. It can happen that the city makes a small wave of the hand, that it lets two beings fall in love”. beyond love, new york comedy is a novel about desire, how to give birth to it and maintain it, through mirrors, playful perversions, baths, suspense, questioning, whether it is about the games of the characters or those of the author who makes fun of his reader, mistreats him, even inveighs against “those people who believe they have the right to a clear and flawless story, as if it were my duty to enlighten or clarify”… new york comedy is a game of checkers, as the first chapter has fun, in the nod to the name of the protagonist (Checkers). And in this funny ball, one wonders who is leading the dance: Johann Rook, the owner of the Preemption, a mysterious character who gives rise to the most romantic rumors and who is said to “intervene on occasion in the life of its tenants”? Patrick Rigg, who asks the guests of his “Great Debauchery” to tell their story at the microphone, of mysterious beauty and violence, who will be the only character to tell his story in “I”, a way of endorsing the role of the narrator? Patrick, definitely first name great New York perverts, “knew things about Manhattan that only the dead should know”…
We are constantly caught between darkness, cynicism and comedy, as if it were a question, in each chapter, of exploring and preempting a genre of comedy: of manners, of characters, detective, sentimental, romantic and musical. The novel also leans toward New York series, Sex & the city to Seinfeld. Schickler even has fun with his debt to Bret Easton Ellis and his character as a wealthy trader, with a sexuality as perverse as it is political, Patrick Rigg, seems straight out ofAmerican Psycho. David Schickler has a lot of fun, excels at this game of ironic mise en abyme. The Preemption thus appears as a house of cards and a game of checkers, like Patrick’s brain — “a fragile house of cards whose cards were the women of his life, balanced, each in their place” — , the novel gradually revealing who leads the game, while scrambling these same cards. new york comedy is the story of Coincidencesthe name of the heady perfume worn by many of the heroines of the story, it is a brilliant exercise in style, and, above all, a great pleasure to read.
David Schicker, Comedy new–yorkertranslated from English (USA) by Jacqueline Huet and Jean-Pierre Carasso, Olivier editions, “Petite Bibliothèque, May 2022, 320 p., €11,90