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Gotham Tragic    by Kurt Wenzel Amazon.com order for
Gotham Tragic
by Kurt Wenzel
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
Hardcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gotham Tragic is crowded with larger than life characters looming over Manhattan at the turn of the millennium. Life is fast, furious, and everything's taken to excess. The protagonist, Kyle Clayton, 'America's last great Literary Fool, and not a little proud of it', is a writer who's cruised his antagonistic way through the jet set, fuelled by wine and women, and thriving on contempt.

Recently he's slowed down somewhat, after marrying redheaded Turkish Ayla, and has got into the 'Muslim thing' by going through a formal conversion. This has made Kurban (his Muslim name, meaning sacrifice) temporarily popular with the staff of the City, the current in New York restaurant (they look out for him by reminding him of everything forbidden by his adopted religion). Another major player, Erin, is a thirty something wannabe actress (from a family of creative failures), employed as a waitress at the City, and a favorite of its seedy, foul-tempered, almost billionaire mogul boss, Lonny Tubin. Erin's rich aunt Helena has been writing 'The Book' all her life, which is now coming to an end. Erin and Kyle also once had a brief, steamy affair, though a boozy blackout almost erased it from his memory.

When Kyle publishes 'The Counterfeit Conversion' - about a writer who fakes his conversion to Islam - his life begins to fall apart. Not only are his wife and her family unhappy with him, but he receives threats from the Muslim community. Then, after he accepts an assignment to write a puff piece on Tubin, events conspire to turn it into an exposť, and the mad mogul gets vengeful too. Of course, it all blows up after the champagne is poured, at the cusp of the millennium. Side characters, like Kyle's tough 'Puissant Pixie' hard-assed agent and the touchy French sommelier with his 'swine', are drawn in bold strokes. Many of the lines are hilarious, such as Erin's exasperated 'you're going to lose the tip of your nose between my teeth, and I'll garnish your soup with THAT, got it? Never fuck with a waitress on her last day' addressed to a demanding customer.

It's a tale full of glitter and corruption, and different kinds of love, in New York, a city where 'anything was possible'. It's a coming of maturity story for several of the characters and perhaps for the city itself. Altogether, Gotham Tragic combines comedy, drama and farce in a highly entertaining manner.

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