03 November 2010

LOST LUSTRE: How the dirty city feels and looks

I started Josh Karlen's memoir LOST LUSTRE when I was in the middle of Patti Smith's JUST KIDS, a book that for all its hardness is more New York fantasy than reality. Jumping from Smith's cozy Chelsea Hotel existence -- art and poetry till the wee hours, lobster claws at Max's Kansas City -- to scenes of Karlen running away from bullies and gang members in an East Village that looked as if it had been bombed was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in my face.

Yet it was a necessary one, because both artistic dream and urban nightmare belong to the city. (I did like some things about JUST KIDS but I'll get back to that tomorrow.) Karlen's collage of experiences as contained in LOST LUSTRE, skipping backward and forward from his parents' divorce to midday meditations from the office, aren't all so violent as that opening shot, but the thread connecting them is the sense of loss -- primarily, for Karlen's innocence when his mother moved him to pre-gentrification Avenue C.

That brutal backdrop pushed him to escape -- into an arts magnet high school, into the punk scene (as he mourns a friend whose band The Lustres gave him the soundtrack to some of his best moments), into the arms of his first love and the SRO where they used to stay. Karlen's text is his ambivalence about his memories, the debauchery of his youth taped over with disapproval over the bar owners who would serve him and his underage friends to excess and the ruin to which some of them came as a result.

As a memoir in fragments LOST LUSTRE left me with a lot of unanswered questions about Karlen's upbringing, but the current of feeling superseded my need for answers in the end. I would absolutely recommend reading this book in the context of others about New York past -- besides the coincidence with JUST KIDS I was reminded of LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING, for example, and portions of THE TENANT -- as one image among many.

This review is part of a TLC Book Tour in which a bunch of bloggers review the same book. So if you don't like my take on it, visit Life in the Thumb tomorrow.


LisaMM said...

You make it sound so interesting, a true picture of the times. THank you so much for your review and for being on this tour.

Amanda said...

I was engrossed with this one as well. I too am curious about his upbringing but then it seems he was a bit confused too about why they were uprooted there. Great review!