A longtime New Yorker contributor writes about his early years in the city—the 1980s principally—ruminating about art and artists, love and apartments, writing and reading and speaking, and the city that he loves.
By virtue of his exceptional observational and analytical powers, acute emotional and moral exactitude, and charmingly rueful sense of humor, he turns in a riveting and incandescent chronicle of personal evolution vividly set within the ever-morphing, cocaine-stoked crucible of ferocious ambition that was 1980s Manhattan. He tells tales of the forging of a marriage; of nightmarish apartment battles with verminous hordes; of fortuitous jobs at museums, men’s fashion magazines, and a book publisher; and of bonds developed with critic Robert Hughes, artist Jeff Koons, and, most profoundly, photographer Richard Avedon. Arabesque, captivating, self-deprecating, and affecting, Gopnik’s cultural and intimate reflections, in league with those of Alfred Kazin and Joan Didion, are rich in surprising moments and delving perceptions into chance, creativity, character, style, conviction, hard work, and love.
Gopnik knows how to turn on the charm, as he does in a well-practiced yarn about losing the bottom half of his one fine suit. Also endearing is his paean to his wife: champion sleeper to his insomniac, meticulous fashionista to his haphazard dresser — although his attempt to write about happily married sex is flat-out awkward ... Gopnik doesn’t always show himself in the most flattering light. He acknowledges his driving ambition even as he describes relationships with 'Dick' Avedon, Robert Hughes and other steppingstone mentors that carry whiffs of sycophancy. In his determination to capture the zeitgeist of the 1980s in art, food, publishing and fashion, his smart observations are sometimes undercut by pontifications: 'Art traps time. It just does.' But more baffling is his repeated insistence that writers must find the 'one right order' in which to arrange their words. Really? Aren’t there as many ways to tell a story as there are to paint a picture?
Gopnik knows full well that the unholy alliance between art and commerce, which emerged in the ’80s, has contributed mightily to the horrifying money culture that has led us to where we are today, but he finds merit in the scene as a whole. In fact, he loves it. Which perhaps accounts for the occasional glibness in this book that I, for one, found either silly or startling or offensive ... What we have here is the story of a pair of privileged young adults who suffer neither intellectual disappointment nor spiritual disillusion nor emotional setbacks: everything that is required for a person to mature. As they are at the beginning, so Adam and Martha are at the end. Consequently, what is missing from At the Strangers’ Gate is a sense of progress toward self-discovery: the very essence of any memoir that hopes to achieve lasting value.