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Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual…

Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in…

by Choire Sicha

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I started this a couple of years ago, and despite the fact that I really like Sicha's online voice and sensibility I had trouble with the voice he uses here. But I've wanted to give it another try so I went back in, this time knowing what I was getting into. And I loved it. It is definitely quirky and different. It's written as if it is intended to be read by someone who is unfamiliar with the time and place (Aliens? People untouched by current and recent events? Both?). The location is not named, nor are the companies in which the characters work, and the characters are only referred to by their first names. Almost all are men, and gay, although they're not singled out as such.

The year is 2009, so right after the crash and the heart of the Great Recession. Most of the characters are in their 20s, most are trying to break into the New York cultural production economy. Most are living on very little money, either low-paying media jobs or patching together gig economy stuff. Nothing really goes on, except little things like getting sick, not being able to pay bills, losing jobs, gaining jobs, and falling in and out of love and lust. Lots of sex (all offpage), lots of partying, all told in a voice that's not exactly deadpan but close to it. And sprinkled in among the seemingly aimlessness of our characters' everyday existence is the big stuff: the brutality of the recession, even for people who have safety nets, the absence of an older generation of gay men and the implications of that for cultural transmission, mentoring, and community (briefly mentioned but it stays with you throughout the story and after you've closed the book). I'm much older that the characters here, but my generation's 20s shared plenty of features with this one, and it brought those back to me.

The voice can get a bit tiring, and the relationships, people, and places can kind of run together (I think that's part of the point). I would have liked some kind of arc to pace the course of the year, if only more on the seasons changing (there is a little bit of that and it's great).

If you like the first 25 pages, you'll like the book. But it's not like other books. I've seen it shelved in Sociology, but it's not at all like an academic monograph or ethnography. It's somewhere between a slice-of-life of a community, a memoir, and a novel. ( )
  Sunita_p | Dec 9, 2016 |
Rambling and not interesting. It may be a factual story but there are much better stories available. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
This is the strangest book I've ever read, and I thought about putting it down at least once. However in the end I think I kind of liked it. The characters do seem to be interchangeable but that is actually true amongst groups of gay friends. I think I have been friends with at least a couple of the guys in the book (and I don't live anywhere near "The City"). I thought I was going to read a book about some guys struggle during the great crash of 2009, instead I got a modern gay novel. However I do have to say that the way it's written can be sometimes tiresome, even thou it's not a bug but a feature. Gay guys everywhere do talk like that and do live like that. The only difference is that in "The City" they seem to go out more. ( )
  josescott | Sep 20, 2014 |
The narrative moving this narrative non-fiction forward is the story of a group of interconnected young men, most of whom are homosexual and several of whom seem to be bankers or stock brokers. This is the story of their struggle to navigate a big city (never specified, but I’d bet it’s New York) and the vagaries of their financial and romantic situations. Interspersed with this narrative are sections describing society in 2009 as though to someone so far in the future that even the most basic of terms need to be explained.

I loved the parts written as a pseudohistory, explaining our society to someone of the future. Even mundane parts of our lives can be strange or humorous if you really examine them, as this book forces you to do. This part reminded me very much of The Motel of the Mysteries, a book written as though someone was staging an archeological dig at a motel from today some thousands of years in the future. Had this been the entire book, I would happily have given it 4 stars. Unfortunately, these parts got more uncommon as the book progressed until the second half was almost entirely narrative. Additionally, readers should be warned that these fake history sections subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) promoted a definite political view point by imposing value judgements on current society. Even when I agreed with this political commentary, I found it a little annoying because it’s just not what I signed up for when I decided to read this book. Very sneaky, Mr. Sicha.

The narrative part of the book was fascinating, but hard to follow. Of the dozen or so men in the story, five of them had names beginning with J! Now, maybe the author was trying to make a point about people in the big city being interchangeable and if so, kudos to him for an effective literary device. However, this was a choice that made it incredibly difficult for me to remember who was who. Many of the guys were connected because they’d dated the same other guy at some point and that, on top of the similar names, meant that I found the narrative muddled. Had the book been all narrative and no funny historical anecdotes, I would probably have given it two stars. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something very odd and very literary.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Aug 16, 2013 |
I don't know where to begin with this book. It is most certainly unique. It's written in an almost clinical style by some sort of teacher/all knowing type being from some time far in the future. It's perhaps a diary of one year in the life of both a City - unnamed but not unknown - and a young gay man named John and his circle of friends . The writing style is explanatory to the point of snark which is its saving grace for without that snark it would be so condescending as to belittle the reader.

The book is a look at the financial collapse and its effects on the City, the election of the Mayor to this third term despite term limits and John's search for sex on various dating sites. There is no indication in the synopsis that the protagonist is gay so I felt a touch blindsided. I am all in favor of gay people finding love however they might want but that does not mean I want to read a book about the search. It just wasn't interesting to me and obviously my interest needs to be held to enjoy a book.

I did find the presentation of the story to be quite new and intriguing. Perhaps I am just too old to fully appreciate all that this book is. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Aug 7, 2013 |
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There was, for a while, a very large and very famous city.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061914304, Hardcover)

Very Recent History by Choire Sicha is an idiosyncratic and elegant narrative that follows a handful of young men in New York City as they navigate the ruins of money and power—in search of love and connection.

After the Wall Street crash of 2008, the richest man in town is the mayor. Billionaires shed apartments like last season’s fashions, even as the country’s economy turns inside out. The young and careless go on as they always have, getting laid and getting laid off, falling in and out of love, and trying to navigate the strange world they traffic in:  the Internet, complex financial markets, credit cards, pop stars, micro-plane cheese graters, and sex apps.

A true-life fable of money, sex, and politics, Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City turns our focus to a year in the life of a great city.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:04 -0400)

"What will the future make of us? In one of the greatest cities in the world, the richest man in town is the Mayor. Billionaires shed apartments like last season's fashion trends, even as the country's economy turns inside out and workers are expelled from the City's glass towers. The young and careless go on as they always have, getting laid and getting laid off, falling in and falling out of love, and trying to navigate the strange world they traffic in: the Internet, complex financial markets, credit cards, pop stars, microplane cheese graters, and sex apps. A true-life fable of money, sex, and politics, Very Recent History follows a man named John and his circle of friends, lovers, and enemies. It is a book that pieces together our every day, as if it were already forgotten"--… (more)

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