Author Laura Pedersen Tackles the Highs and Lows of Life in New York

Gabriella Tutino


New York City is the “City that Never Sleeps,” due to all its hustle and bustle; millions of people have been migrating to the metropolis in the hopes of making their dreams come true and establishing a life since the first Dutch colony settled in lower Manhattan in 1626.

Laura Pedersen is one of those millions. A native upstate New Yorker from Buffalo who arrived in 1984 and has chronicled her time and observations of NYC in her latest memoir, Life in New York: How I Learned to Love Squeegee Men, Token Suckers, Trash Twisters and Subway Sharks.

Pedersen has already established herself as a successful writer, so this memoir doesn’t follow the upward mobility storyline of “country-girl-to-big-city-slicker.” Rather, Pedersen writes about the ever-changing history and culture of NYC--spanning the 1600s to the 18th century to the present--and peppers each chapter and observation with her family’s or her own experiences.

Chapter 5 titled ‘Rental Illness’ for example, launches into some architectural history, explanations of neighborhood acronyms and apartment-hunting lingo. But what personalizes the breakdown is her own stories of renting in New York City, as a double-illegal rent-controlled, sublet visitor, no less. Nitty-gritty details such as not being able to cook in the apartment or take out the trash without running into the landlord give the chapter, as well as the rest of the book, the personal touches that balance out the common, researched information.



Of course, Pedersen’s writing style may not suit all: filled with sweeping generalizations and run-on sentences grouping objects together (that can take up an entire paragraph) the prose can feel tired and cliché. What can be said about NYC that hasn’t been said already? However, Pedersen succeeds at being refreshing with her snarky, sometimes sharp, deadpan sense of humor; it’s not so much laugh-at-loud, but rather elicits a knowing smirk, such as this subtle dig towards sexism in NYC: “If a man speaks rudely to a woman in New York he may be hit with a sexual harassment suit. If a man wants a woman to speak rudely to him it costs approximately $4 per minute.”

The only issue at hand is that “Life in New York” is very Manhattan-centric. Pedersen may mention the other four boroughs, but it seems to stem out of necessity and not experience. In this case, she seems to be an outsider looking in, rather than a transplant from upstate New York who has successfully integrated and blended into city life and attitude.

But overall, “Life in New York” succeeds at capturing and encapsulating the city’s lively, contradictory, dramatic, and restless pulse that flows through its residents, visitors, structure, and history.


Author Bio:

Gabriella Tutino is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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