In ten essays and five bizarre, fictional diary entries, Rudnick casts an eye on his New Jersey childhood, his Jewish roots, and--most successfully--the many artists, writers and designers he’ known while working in New York theaters over the past 30 years. It’ largely a successful venture because Rudnick knows New York well, and in his life and career he’ known more than a few colorful New Yorkers who, as he puts it, “couldn’t possibly live anywhere else, at least not without police protection.” In this way, the collection is a love letter both to the city and to the eccentrics he’ known there.
None of the sincerity that infuses Rudnick’ essays are found in the pieces featuring his fictional retired substitute teacher, Elyot Vionnet, whose five “diary entries” are interspersed throughout the book. The fussy Vionnet gets to embody and espouse every stereotype that non-New Yorkers hold against city residents. He’ a fastidious, grumpy, cynical sophisticate who is most communicative when he’ expressing displeasure. This isn’t to say these fictional pieces aren’t humorous, but they do represent the weakest work here. It would be hard to find a personal essay that so nimbly captures a particular time and place as successfully as Rudnick’ closer “At the Chelsea Hotel.” By comparison, the Vionnet sections of the book seem flippant. Without question, Rudnick is a craftsman who is gifted in a variety of genres, and he’ at his best here when he’ writing about himself, his family and his loves.