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.
Occasionally, Gopnik’s love for the epigram trips the reader up: 'Art traps time, but food traps manners. The art lasts, the food rots.' This is his introduction into a recollection of not only his life in SoHo but also his fledgling professional art criticism and gradual breakthrough into the literary universe. At the Strangers’ Gate is a book studded with nuggets of fine prose, best tasted in smaller sections.
Throughout the book, Gopnik is torn between his desire to self-deprecatingly proclaim '[m]y inadequacy as hero of the city or even the story' and his need to spotlight the hip social circles he moves in, name-dropping along the way artists David Salle, Eric Fischl, and Jeff Koons, as well as the art critic Robert Hughes, in addition to the aforementioned Avedon and Varnedoe. The unstated implication is that these important, interesting people sense the special qualities of our modest nonhero. Gopnik describes himself on more than one occasion as a simple storyteller whose only gift is for 'spinning tales,' but simple stories are greatly outnumbered by blustery aphorisms ... If only he could relax and trust his keen eye for character and atmosphere.