Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Heart of the City

I suspect that many people, when they first pick up Ariel Sabar’s new book, Heart of the City, will mistake it for a short story collection.  After all, the book’s subtitle is: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York.  The book, in actual fact, is a collection of nine true stories about married couples who met somewhere in one of New York City’s public spaces: in Central Park, on a midtown street late at night, inside Grand Central Terminal, on a ferry headed to the Statue of Liberty, on the subway, at the top of the Empire State Building, in Times Square, inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or in Washington Square Park.

Sabar, inspired by the fact that his own parents met in Washington Square Park, presents an interesting premise as the basis of Heart of the City.  It is the author’s contention that chance meetings in unusually beautiful or iconic settings actually “encourage” couples to fall in love.  In order to test this theory of “environmental psychology,” Sabar, after a good deal of effort searching for suitable couples, chose the stories of nine of them for presentation in the book.

Ariel Sabar
The stories include one about two people who met, and fell in love, in Central Park in 1941 when he was a sailor on leave and she was homeless and sleeping in the park at night.  There’s another one about two loners who meet in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where, despite the heavy odds against him, he manages to impress her with his sincerity just barely enough to get her to stop running from him.  And, then, there’s my personal favorite, the story of a young German man who meets the woman (and her young son) who will turn out to be the love of his life while on a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty. 

Heart of the City includes a 24-page introduction explaining Sabar’s theory and how he arrived at it.  There is also a postscripts section at the end to bring to bring the reader up-to-date with each of the nine couples featured, and an epilogue in which the author reflects on what he learned while writing the book.  Strangely enough, the epilogue’s last paragraph leaves me with the impression that Sabar might be questioning his theory a little:
"Most of the couples in this book told me they would not have met but for place. The landmarks and public spaces where they spoke their first words were not mere backdrops. They were villages – a small place within a larger one – that slowed time just long enough for two busy people to catch each other’s eye. In rereading their stories recently, though, I noted something that mattered at least as much: the couples were open, and ready, to fall in love."
The relative sameness of the nine stories makes me wonder if Sabar might have built a stronger case for his theory by focusing on one or two couples whose marriages failed, indicating perhaps that they were so caught up in the moment, and in the location, that their initial judgment about each other may have been impaired.

Rated at: 3.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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