This is a terrific book, truly one that captures our dark and scary times while still lighting a candle to show a possible way out. "Tabloid City" also, it seems to me, heralds the on-going evolution of this most-gifted author, long one of the most versatile and gifted chroniclers and thinkers we have.
It is present day. New York is no longer "My Downtown." Yes, on surface this is a depressing epic, but such are the changed times in which we find ourselves. As Hamill demonstrates, blind faith in technology, a seemingly endless and crippling recession and, most of all, September 11, have changed our world irrevocably.
The old faiths, favorites, tribes, rituals and retreats are gone for good. It seems that in their place there is nothing but mayhem, fear and uncertainty.
Hamill's characters find it pointless to try to sugar-coat the painful realities of today, or wall-paper them over with wistful remembrances of "glory" days and past champions. For too many (and not just the poor and afflicted), life now in the big city boils down to a constant struggle for mere survival, sometimes hour-to-hour. One day here encapsulates odysseys of lifetimes.
And yet--not all is lost.
Even people desperate themselves can, and still do, achieve miracles, minor and major. These are not the breath-taking, lyrical miracles of "Snow In August," or "Forever." Progress--digging ourselves out of the impersonal messes we've made--is likely to be incremental. And so it is fitting that the prose style here is unlike that of his other classics. What Hamill does now is staccato yet still intimate; taut yet still enlightening.
I believe the remarkable accomplishment here, and why this book matters, is in Hamill's revealing that even in our own struggles, we can find true meaning out of chaos and fulfill human purpose by rendering acts, small or large, of kindness, sacrifice and love. While the loathsome villains are (and always will be) on hand, the memorable characters are those who perform selfless acts of charity for others--sometimes strangers.
What I come away remembering most are the givers, for they are the ones who will light the way out. The humble, anonymous Mexican woman whose small tender act enriches a disabled and bitter vet of the Iraq war. The socialite who mentors a young and poor Jamaican to achieve her full promise. The lonely, aged artist, who rescues his former muse and her family. And the conflicted policeman, sacrificing out of his own despair and loss, for the greater good.
Hamill reminds us that while the world has changed, these intended or random acts of generosity and love are timeless in nature. What's more, as the Hamill doppelganger Sam Briscoe comes to understand, it ultimately matters not through what medium these acts of grace are reported--or if they are reported at all.