Book Review: Only In New York (Volume 3)
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A tongue-in-cheek portrayal of one man’s fabulous life as a New Yorker living in the big city and abroad
Only in New York (Volume 3) comprises 38 tongue-in-cheek short stories about the impressivelife of the author: Manhattan-born M.G. Crisci. Spanning 70 years, from the 50s to present day (with the exception of a final story imagined in the near future), Crisci puts his life, flaws and all, on full display. He shows us that he is a clever storyteller with the ability to laugh at himself—truly, what could be better?
He’s gotten himself into countless predicaments in and way outside of New York, admittedly all by his own fault, but he takes full responsibility. His no-regret mentality is certainly something to aspire to. We can all hope to live a life as full and interesting as his.
Midway through the book, I realized that instead of a collection of stories about life in New York, Only in New York feels more like a fascinating and brief study of a man who started as a kid in Harlem, helping his dad in his butcher shop under the subway tracks and then working his way up as a successful businessman and world traveler.
The first story introduces us to Crisci as a teenager living in Long Beach for a summer. Mr. Reatti, the Italian immigrant grandfather of his neighbors, teaches him how to fish. It is endearing, and most of all we learn about a main attribute of Crisci’s: his readiness to try anything. He is someone who likes to push boundaries and test his and others’ endurance.
We follow Crisci in his dealings with the Chinese lampshade hustler at the Broome Street Lampshade Factory; getting a promotion as number two at his ad agency and transferring to Sydney, Australia; landing Lee Greenwood, writer and singer of “Proud to be an American,” for a conference that George and Barbara Bush would attend. Mixed in with the stories of corporate America and his misadventures abroad are poignant stories of Crisci as loving father, husband, and son.
Crisci proudly carries his New York sensibility with him wherever he goes. He claims New Yorkers are “arrogant, confident, aloof, and insular yet surprisingly self-effacing, thoughtful, sensitive, and willing to offer kindnesses to those in need.” I enjoyed the moments when his thoughtful and sensitive side comes out, but at times, the arrogant half does too.
He is a kid from Harlem at heart, and it’s where he gets his feistiness, but it can get him into trouble. In the story “We Are Going to Die!” he ignores all warnings from a concierge in Morocco telling him not to drive to the oasis town of Erfoud in the Sahara. He wants to see flamingos, so damnit, he and his wife Mary Ann are going to see flamingos! What occurs is not deadly, but he places his wife in danger and ignores her pleas against going. This would be more humorous and harmless if it were not one of other similar stories where he ignores warnings or advice of others so that he can do as he wants. He admits his wrongs, though, so there is something to say for that. Crisci as a character is complicated and not without flaws. I’m puzzled by a few of his choices, like his reactions and absent current-time reflections in a story about Bill Cosby.
There are moments when his idea of the typical New Yorker feels skewed and his desire to be relatable and humorous falls short of the desired effect. Crisci feigned a separation from the upper class world he existed in—dealing with the rich and famous, working in the high end corporate world—maybe because he started from the bottom or because he never left the street kid in him behind. You can’t blame someone for making something of themselves, but he doesn’t always feel rough and tough since he’s been relieved of so many of the struggles that come with inhabiting the lower social classes.
Crisci is unapologetic, and this collection proves to be a true work of engaging literature. You know a work of art is good if you have a strong reaction to it, and Only In New York had me reacting strongly on every page.
His relationship with his wife is a part of many of the stories, and it is one of my favorite parts of the book. Their love is subtle and strong, and it’s endearing how he describes their dynamic, especially Mary Ann’s coolness in the face of all of his follies.
Each story in Only In New York is wildly unique from the other. Crisci finds a nice balance of stories ridiculous and hysterical with others that are moving and contemplative. Since the book is written with real stories, it makes them even more hard hitting and really make you think. At times, I was left feeling more sad than amused and I occasionally wished for more reflection on past moments now that he is older and wiser, but there is a strength in reporting an event and leaving the reader to make their own opinions about it. And trust me—you’re going to have opinions about it.
Genre: Nonfiction / New York / Humor
Print Length: 230 pages
Thank you for reading Madeline Barbush’s book review of Only in New York (Volume 3) by M.G. Crisci! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.