I am too old for Bordertown. I don't mean that in some "put away childish things" sense. I still find the aesthetic as fun as ever--hell, I've got purple hair and a closet half-full of leather and lace as I type. But I've internalized Cavafy too much. I no longer believe problems can be solved by flight to another city; I no longer find the narrative of people trying an interesting one. I want to read about people who build a better life where they are, people who find the magic in the every day.
Or, if they must run--there's a line in one of the stories where one of the characters muses, "No one comes to Soho to become a plumber, though I suspect that there are many who move uptown eventually and find a trade." And I thought, yes, that
. I want to read that story, where people run to another city and find and face the fact that all their fears (and the basic principles of economics) have followed them, and build a cool life anyway. As a plumber.
But that story isn't here. Oh, that's not to say Bordertown is portrayed as a utopia. It has gang violence and drugs and prostitution and all the rest of the grit. But still, ultimately--it is
the happy ending. It's better than the real world. More colorful, more magical, more special.
And I sit in the corner, wondering where all the food comes from, wondering how the electricity is supplied, wondering who, really, is doing the plumbing.
Partly the problem is the collection's theme: "Welcome to Bordertown." There's a couple stories about old hands, but for the most part it's origin stories, over and over again. I can enjoy a good origin story. Almost any of the stories, if I'd read it alone, would have provided a pleasant and enjoyable shot of nostalgia. But the repetition weakens them. How special can getting to Bordertown be, really, if everyone's doing it? And the whole allure of Bordertown is its specialness.
My favorites were "A Prince of Thirteen Days" (which had the distinction of being one of the few stories about a native, and I loved it for that--for portraying magic not as exotic but as a normal part of life, just a backdrop for regular adolescent angst), "Crossings" (because I do love a good female friendship story), and "Our Stars, Our Selves" (because the astrologer's backstory was the closest to the sort of story I wanted). Of the poetry, I thought "Stairs in Her Hair" and "The Song of the Song" had the best rhythm and language, but I probably would have preferred a poetry-less collection, or at least one where the poetry was imbedded in the stories.
But really, it was a fairly even collection. Any story picked at random should provide the needed shot of nostalgia. Then set the book down for a few months. It's better read in pieces than as a whole.
Is that an indictment, for a shared-world collection? Maybe. Or maybe, as I said, I'm just too old.