By Karl Taro Greenfeld
Harper, $25.99, 253 pages
Mark is about to join his friends for breakfast fully unaware that the trajectory of his life is about to change. He sits in a local steakhouse with the other fathers of children at the school, as they order “coffee, eggs, toast, Cream of Wheat”; he learns that a sex offender has entered their neighborhood.
What ensues in Karl Taro Greenfeld’s sixth book, Triburbia, is an unfolding of the carefully crafted lives of a group of late thirty-somethings, living in the New York City neighborhood of TriBeCa. Their lives are neatly folded and folded again like origami figures (perfect on the outside, a beautiful likeness, but ultimately weak by construction), each crease tight and each fold precise. There’s intrigue, self-doubt, failed art and found love, played out against a back-drop of privilege in loft and apartments “worth millions” and with wives “vestigially beautiful”. And there’s language. Greenfeld delivers a vocabulary that doesn’t just give his protagonist “shoulder-length black hair”, but also an “ovoid face” and “epicanthic eyes”. As a result, the prose is sometimes interrupted by descriptions that hang on the story like Christmas tree ornaments, pretty, perhaps appropriate, but ultimately distracting. Greenfeld could have left out such reaching vocabulary and the characters and the story would have unfolded beautifully. Nevertheless, you will be taken in by each character and happy to ride along with them as a witness to their highs and lows. TriBeCa doesn’t just provide a backdrop for this group of friends, it delivers an identity to which they hitch their lives and dreams.
Reviewed by Julie Scott