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Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

January 14, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld (2011) French title: Triburbia. Translated by Françoise Adelstain.

greenfeld_triburbiaTriburbia relates the quotidian of a group of fathers in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan, New York. Tribeca was an industrial neighborhood until the 1970s. In the 1980s, artists started to live in lofts in this area as the rents were cheap. It then became a trendy place where a lot of influential people live.

Triburbia is a mosaic of stories about self-analysis, marriages and children, a sort of chick lit told from a male point of view. These fathers are writer, sound engineer, gangster, photographer, … Not blue collar, not white collar either, part of an undefined class I’ll call artistic. These men have jobs with flexible hours and meet for breakfast in a café after dropping the children to school. That’s how they met, actually, through their offspring going to the same school.

They all arrived in Tribeca before it was trendy and witnessed the gentrification of the neighborhood. They have the classic angst seen in chick lit: how’s my marriage doing? Shall cheat with M. X’s wife? How are my children compared to others? Am I getting old? Am I successful? Where did my dream go? They’re as vapid as the characters of Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson.

What makes a big difference with chick lit though, is Greenfeld’s style. I read him in French, so I don’t have quotes but he has a knack for colorful and humorous descriptions. If you want to discover his style, have a look at Guy’s review, here.

Although Greenfeld gives a good picture of the gentrification process of Tribeca but I couldn’t muster a lot of interest for these self-absorbed men, their snotty daughters or their wives. They have unconventional professions, crave for success and despise people who have regular jobs, especially bankers, accountants and the like. (We’re in Manhattan, remember, so high paying job often involve working in the finance industry) Finance is too grown-up, not glamorous enough. I found them judgmental, snobbish and shallow. Having children is not a good enough reason to stop smoking pot or behaving like teenagers.

The book is divided in chapters whose titles are the address of the character who stars in it. It is a way to show how snobbish people are, the location of your loft matters. We discover this little microcosm, how people are linked to one another. The characters pop up from one chapter to the other as the reader makes the links between the members of this tribe. They are under pressure to be rich with an artistic job, which isn’t easy to achieve. These men don’t admire Hemingway and his Moveable Feast. They have no admiration for filthy poor but underestimated artists, they only have admiration for artists who are as rich as a hedge fund managers. In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it: the liberty to create with the financial wealth of a yuppie job.

In the end, this milieu is as codified and rigid as the bourgeoisie. The codes are different, that’s all. You must be rich but appear not to care about money. You must live as if common rules didn’t apply to you: it’s not a big deal if the children are late to school, or if you do drugs. You must live in a loft. They are supposed to be free of social codes but they just created new ones, the live-as-a-cool-and-successful-artistic-family code. The biggest difference with their bourgeois counterparts is that they don’t have trophy wives. These men have married women with successful careers, women who didn’t give up their jobs when their first child was born to become stay-at-home mothers and PTA wonders.

This Tribeca tribe questions their life choices and for the most, their career happened by chance. They had an opportunity, they seized it or drifted from their original dream to something else. They cheat on their partner but don’t necessary want a divorce. They realize that their couple may not be so great, that their family might be a façade. To me, they looked like a team of immature Peter Pans who think they are superior to others but have the same mid-life crisis as anyone.

Triburbia has good critics but I thought it was as futile as its characters. I always have trouble sympathizing with self-indulgent trendy-lefties who look down on non-artistic people. It’s a form of haughtiness that is not becoming. The gentrification process of the neighborhood was interesting to follow, as traditional shops are pushed to close or move out as rents increase. Greenfeld’s writing is the redeeming quality of the novel. He really nailed Tribeca’s inhabitants with a great sense of humor.

  1. January 14, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    I suppose I liked it because he did nail it. I feel as though I know some of his characters.
    Thanks for the mention.

    Like

    • January 15, 2017 at 10:52 am

      He nailed them good, that’s for sure. And his writing is good. It’s just that I have little patience with these characters. I had the same problem with Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes and I love her.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. January 15, 2017 at 2:57 am

    I suppose you did a good job of driving my interest away from the book 🙂

    Like

    • January 15, 2017 at 10:53 am

      Sorry (or not sorry? that is the question)
      It’s well-written but I wasn’t interested in their lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. January 15, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Books with a New York setting usually appeal to me, but this one sounds somewhat insular in its focus. I think I would find these characters rather frustrating too. Oh well…

    Like

    • January 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

      I like books with a NY setting as well. I have A Cool Million by Nathaniel West on the shelf. Have you read this one?

      Like

      • January 17, 2017 at 9:44 am

        I have read that one. It’s a good book with interesting themes (still of some relevance today). Nevertheless , I’m not entirely convinced that West is for me!

        Like

        • January 17, 2017 at 10:23 pm

          I thought you had. I started it but I wasn’t in a mood for a Candide-like book. I’ll try again.

          Like

  4. January 15, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I know what you mean. It’s probably aimed at a certain audience, like Notting Hell or Shopaholics and other such novels, portraying a certain class and gently poking fun at it (or even not gently).

    Like

    • January 15, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      I don’t know who the target was. At least, it was interesting to have a male point of view for once. (even if not all the chapters are seen from a male perspective)

      Like

  5. February 15, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    It sounds like a well written and observed novel about characters and a place that I don’t really care about. One to pass on for me I think, good as it sounds in terms of execution.

    Like

    • February 15, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      It’s nothing to write home about. Good news, it won’t increase your TBR.

      Like

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