Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Review: Metropolis, by Elizabeth Gaffney

Metropolis is set in the New York of the 1860s and `70s, as the United States was making its transition into a global power. You wouldn't know this from this book however, as Metropolis centers itself on the underworld of New York--specifically the crime of the Five Points area of the Lower East Side. Featuring a complicated hero who isn't always easy to "make out," our hero is called by many names but most often Frank Harris.

Coerced into the Whyo gang, lead by the ruthless "Dandy" Johnny Dolan and his mother, Harris finds himself falling in love with Beatrice, also a member of the gang. Its clear that Elizabeth Gaffney has done her research and knows whereof she speaks. It helps that she's a Brooklyn native and describes the Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan down to the smallest detail. Her characters are intriguing, and the way Gaffney writes makes me want to do more reading on the gangs of the period (indeed, Gaffney drew a lot of her source material from the Herbert Asbury book, Gangs of New York, even though that particular book isn't particularly factual). Metropolis is about a clash of cultures and about "finding oneself" in the jungle of Manhattan. It's a poignant tale. Anyone who has read The Alienist by Caleb Carr will like this book.

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