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The City We Became Book Review - Lunchtime Lit with Mel Carriere

Mel Carriere is just the avatar for an ordinary mailman who has delusions of destroying universes with his words.

The City We Became became a rotten big apple on Mel's lunch break.

The City We Became became a rotten big apple on Mel's lunch break.

One Click Lunchtime Lit?

Lunchtime Lit book reviews under their current criteria have been in existence since July, 2015, when I reviewed Shantaram. Since that time, I have critiqued thirty four novels besides this one, reading for only one half hour per day.

Judging by this voluminous volume of volumes, I was practically speed reading while my postal long-life vehicle basked beneath the California sunshine. But then I recently moved to Colorado where I found, to my horror, that the time-honored dictates of Lunchtime Lit may have to change.

Unlike California, where I never heard of such an abomination, here in Colorado the postal service honors a rule called one-click lunch. This means a letter carrier can skip his or her unpaid mealtime, clock out to lunch for one click at the end of the day, then go home a half hour early. For the uninitiated among you, a postal click is one one-hundredth of an hour. Our postal time clocks operate in hundredths, perhaps a difficult concept for you, but because postal people are all math whizzes, the conversion is no problem is no problem for us. But for all of you math-challenged out there (I was going to write "flunkies," but my sensitivity reader recommended I change it to "math-challenged"), all you have to do to get hundredths is multiply regular minutes by 1.6667 in your head. Either that, or you can use the convenient conversion chart by the time clock, remembering what your momma said, cheaters never prosper.

Faced with the grim specter of one-click lunch before me, I went back and tried to calculate how long some previous Lunchtime-Lit behemoths would have taken me, reading one click per day instead of fifty (half an hour). Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy consumed 103 half-hour lunches, requiring about 165 days in mailman years, after subtracting days off, vacations, plus sick calls for headaches, hangnails, hangovers and other medical emergencies. I calculated that while reading it one mere click a day, A Suitable Boy would have required 5,150 lunches, or an amazing 8,250 turns of the calendar page, about twenty two and a half earth years. I could have started it on postal day 1, then been two thirds of the way to retirement before finishing. David Foster Wallace's monumental door-stop snooze-fest Infinite Jest would have taken slightly less than that, 22.3 years with one-click lunches. Even the thinnest sliver of a Lunchtime Lit title, like Nevil Shute's deli-sliced On The Beach, would have devoured 2.6 years under the one-click rule, although it took me only about nineteen calendar days to consume at my regular pace.

Imagine, therefore, the horror I got doing the ugly math in my head after becoming deeply embedded in N.K. Jesmin's The City We Became, my first Lunchtime Lit book read completely within the Colorado state lines. After about 200 pages I realized that things just weren't working out for me and this book. Although I would have loved to put it down, it would have broken Lunchtime Lit continuity. So I slogged onward, happy the one-click lunch rule was optional, not mandatory. Otherwise, I would have been faced with the prospect of 2,000 days in a bad marriage, condemned to the nonsensical monotone of Jesmin's uninspiring verbiage, 5.5 years of my life that I could have spent doing something a lot more fun, or worthwhile.

According to self-proclaimed Internet experts, you can walk around the earth in 2.7 years at the Equator, trotting along for 8 hours a day. Think of the sights I could see doing that - like the sea! It's also hella hot along the equator, but the point is, I could have done it twice in the 5.5 years condemned with the ball and chain of this book, with pocket change leftover. I would have been exhausted when I finished, but it still would have been better than reading The City We Became. This is true even if it was for only one click per day, about 24 blinks of an eye, every one of which I would have preferred to sit there and count, rather than read this book. One miserable click alone with this silly story feels like an eternity.

The City We Became is a Bronx Bomb.

The City We Became is a Bronx Bomb.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

Origin

632

158,150

1/16/2020

2/26/2020

25

The Casual Vacancy

503

162,152

2/27/2020

4/13/2020

30

Thy Tears Might Cease

592

207,375

4/14/2020

6/26/2020

41

Every Man Dies Alone

500

194,500

6/27/2020

8/20/2020

29

The Three Body Problem

390

118,450

8/22/2020

10/1/2020

21

King Jesus

413

182,530

10/2/2020

1/13/2021

36

The City We Became

479

130,660

1/15/2021

2/25/2021

25

*Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

**Twenty-eight other titles, with a total estimated word count of 6,351,407 and 992 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Whether read for one click or the standard fifty, Lunchtime Lit rules are set in stone, although stones are subject to weathering or erosion, meaning sometimes pieces of principles get washed downstream. At any rate, Lunchtime Lit books are read only on Mel's half-hour postal lunch break, which he still indulges in, even with the one-click rule available. If he chose instead to read for only one click a day, in order to go home early and get a head-start arguing with his lovely, devoted, but headstrong wife, then his reviews would be available only every five years or so, on average. Literary criticism as an institution would suffer.

The Dutch bought Manhattan Island for cheaper than The City We Became cost me.

The Dutch bought Manhattan Island for cheaper than The City We Became cost me.

The City That Became, Well Lame

I had high hopes going into The City We Became, hopes as high as The Empire State Building, or The Freedom Tower, whatever the highest building topping Manhattan's skyline is these days. I heard the author N.K. Jesimin being interviewed on National Public Radio and the premise behind her latest sounded promising. In this fantasy novel she turned each of New York City's five boroughs into a human avatar, representing the appearance and ideals of each sub-city in the flesh. It sounded to me like something different, something deep, something philosophical I could chew on along with my peanut butter sandwich or chicken wings, whatever was on the lunchtime menu that day. Then, to top off the interview, Ms. Jesimin gave a reading. She made it sound pretty literary, it came out real stellar prose in her profound, dignified voice.

So intrigued was I that I went out, no, stayed home and bought the novel on Amazon, actually paying the full hardback price, because the paperback is not available yet. The local Goodwill doesn't even have any used copies so far, though it probably will soon, as readers throw it away in droves. Boy what a shocker the reality of the promise turned out to be, kind of like marrying a gold-digger that walks down the aisle with a smile, then ditches you when your back is turned. Ms. Jesimin politely pocketed my 35 bucks, then jilted me. Instead of being served filet mignon for lunch like expected, I got soured tuna fish. The book did not satisfy my belly, it gave me literary indigestion, to the point where I couldn't keep any words down.

The problem, therefore, was that the expectations did not meet the reality. On the radio she must have read the one well-constructed section in the entire novel, because the rest of the prose was campy, shoddy, shall I say pedestrian, something New York has a lot of. The five boroughs have superhero-like powers, but their powers are ill-defined. they seem to be able to blow up the bad guys whenever the urge strikes, simply by willing it, while at other times the villains trample them at will. The borough people are something like superheroes, but more like the Justice-League superheroes of the Super Friends cartoon I used to watch as a boy on Saturday mornings, exchanging Hanna-Barbera level dialogue.

All of this cut-rate writing produced bubbles in my belly, or was that just leaky-gut syndrome, a nebulous, ill-defined unease, recently discussed by my fellow blogger Pamela in this venue, to my complete horror.

In The City We Became, N.K. Jesmin sold me The Brooklyn Bridge

In The City We Became, N.K. Jesmin sold me The Brooklyn Bridge

Big Borough Bellyache

I believe that part of the problem behind The City We Became is that Ms. Jesimin doesn't convince me that her five-borough plus one combined New York avatar are the good guys, not enough to care about them anyway. And even if they are bad guys, I could still dig it if they were captivating enough as characters. But they are not.

Apparently, if my wandering, distracted mind is interpreting it correctly - and it might not be because I couldn't help daydreaming in the middle of dull prose, wishing I was jogging around the Equator twice like Forrest Gump, or something similar, New York has just been born as a city, emerging from the womb as some kind of living entity, with a consciousness all its own. This consciousness has chosen these avatars to defend it from outside interference, an interference that exists because being born as a city means drilling through multiple universes, destroying them in the process. Naturally, the entities that live in those universes are pissed off to be going homeless, so they try to defend themselves. This is an understandable response, even if they are slimy, body-snatching aliens with ugly tentacles. All the same, Ms. Jesimin expects we the readers to sympathize, or at least empathize, with the mediocre cartoon caricatures of the Big Apple that want to turn those aliens' worlds upside down.

Could the story be simply symbolic, a metaphor for a larger principle about the injustice in human society, or a denunciation of crass consumerism? That very well could be the case, but at the moment the underlying truth escapes me, and Ms. Jesimin has not motivated me to waste further clicks of the clock furrowing my brow, trying to figure it all out.

Instead, I furrow my brow wondering how this book's author, NK Jesimin, has achieved such renown and acclaim. Maybe this book was just one of her off-days, I think as I scratch my head in confusion, watching while dandruff sprinkles down on the cupcake I am eating for lunchtime dessert. After all, Ms. Jesimin received three consecutive Hugo awards, awarded for her Inheritance Trilogy. Because so many others love her, I am willing to admit it must be just me that is missing the point.

Ms. Jesimin likes to write in threes, The City We Became also being the first of a promised three-part set. Oh Lord, even with a five-hundred click lunch I don't have the time, or patience, to squeeze this trio into my schedule. I'm afraid I will be one and done with this particular trilogy. Garage-sale prices couldn't lure me back. One past Lunchtime Lit book was stolen by me off of a front porch, but some postal customer could pin a florescent "Free- please take" sticky note to Part Two of this series, and I wouldn't touch it with two pairs of my Covid gloves on.

The acknowledgements section was actually better than the book. The acknowledgements section told an entertaining story about the writer's life, much more entertaining than that of any of her characters in this work of fiction. NK is a bad-ass, hard bitten New Yorker who was born in Iowa, then split time between Mobile, Alabama and the borough of Brooklyn. You normally don't mess with people like that. I am sorry I had to mess, but I just didn't like this mess. Probably a multiple Hugo-winning author has written better things, but based on this first taste, I don't think I will be sampling more.

N.K. Jesimin may be one of the Queens of the Hugos, but she doesn't wear the Lunchtime Lit Crown

N.K. Jesimin may be one of the Queens of the Hugos, but she doesn't wear the Lunchtime Lit Crown

A Real Page-Turner

Sometimes books are page turners because they are just too good to put down, and you gotta see what happens next. Other times books are page turners because you just want them to be over.

Once I turn the first page of a Lunchtime Lit book I am committed to it, for better or for worse. During the 35 titles covered here I have never changed horses in mid-stream, and boy have I been tempted. If I could break my dentures gnawing on 600,000 word Infinite Jest with its infinite, brain-freezing footnotes, I could certainly chew through the skinny sandwich that is The City We Became. But at times I found myself skimming, looking at the words on the page without them really sinking in.

There were occasions when The City We Became flirted with interesting, for a click or two, but I think it just moved too fast, like an obligatory Charlie's Angels car chase scene that has very little by way of buildup. There were a lot of car chases here too, cars being chased by demonic Starbucks shops that turned into intergalactic monsters. Need I say more?

Staten Island, the most uninspiring borough of New York, matches the insipid prose of The City We Became.

Staten Island, the most uninspiring borough of New York, matches the insipid prose of The City We Became.

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 08, 2021:

Wow, that's high praise, Linda. I suppose we can find something of interest even in the dull side of life, if we look. Sometimes we really have to look hard. I really appreciate you dropping in!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2021:

Recommended for You

This is the most entertaining article about a book that the writer didn’t like that I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing it, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 06, 2021:

Thank you, Davika. I try not to focus on any genre, I just want to read a good book. This was not a good book, I am sad to report, and hopefully you can spend your leisure time reading something that is.

I really appreciate your nice words. Have a great day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 06, 2021:

Hi Mel thank you for sharing an honest review. I am not for that genre but like that you wrote about it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2021:

Thank you Pamela. The book I am reading now is better, and I should be sharing it before too long. I hope you had a lovely Easter. I appreciate you dropping in!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 04, 2021:

Your lunchtime lit reviews are always interesting, Mel. It is a shame that this was not a very good book. I always look forward to your book reviews. I hope you are reading a good book this time.

Happy Easter to you, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2021:

Yes Bill, Colorado is slowly becoming painfully normal for us, after being spoiled by Southern California for so many years. We're not quite completely over the hump, but are settling in by degrees.

Happy Easter to you and yours as well.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2021:

It's really tedious to be stuck with a bad book, Ann. I didn't know they had book clubs anymore, because nobody reads. My mother was in the Oprah book club, I believe, but that was years ago. Happy Easter!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 04, 2021:

It's good to see another Lit review from you. It feels like we are slowly returning to normal. Thanks for the review, and Happy Easter to you and your wife.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 04, 2021:

I'm reading a 'first' book by one of our game show come presenter blokes here. The sort that are suddenly on every show you can imagine. So they write a book whilst they're in the limelight. Not particularly good writing and very rambling, though it raises a smile once in a while. I shan't be reviewing it any more than that, though! It's a book club read so I have to finish it...

Ann

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2021:

Thank you Ann, I guess the book wasn't a complete waste if I could make someone smile reading my review. Don't worry about the postal math, it's right up there with relativity in terms of complexity.

Lately I've been reading some real bombs. The next one should be slightly better.

I really appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2021:

Thank you John. Yeah, I hate to say I allowed myself to be suckered into opening up my wallet. I would like to say it won't happen again, but I am a fool for women with sexy radio voices.

I really appreciate you dropping in.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on April 04, 2021:

I am certain I am better off reading your review than the book itself. ‘The City We Became” sounds like a total waste of time that could be spent more constructively. There are not many books I will pay full “new” price for, and if I do they better be worth the read. An interesting and enjoyable read as always, Mel.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 04, 2021:

What a shame this didn't meet your expectations, Mel! Sounds like a drag. I must admit I'm mathematically challenged enough not to understand your 'click' thing at all! Sorry!

I'll remember to give this one a miss, then. Despite the book's failure, you always manage to entertain and make us smile, so thanks for that.

Ann

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