By Nightfall: Some of my favorite quotes

Here are some of my favorite quotes from By Nightfall. These are, I should note, prettay prettay long. It’s the kind of book that gets you with entire paragraphs

“He’s one of those smart, drifty young people who, after certain deliberations, decides he wants to do Something in the Arts but won’t, possibly can’t, think in terms of an actual job; who seems to imagine that youth and brains and willingness will simply summon an occupation, the precise and perfect nature of which will reveal itself in its own time.”

“There’s New York, one of the goddamnedest perturbations ever to ride the shifting surface of the earth. It’s medieval, really, all ramparts and ziggurats and spikes and steeples, entirely possible to see a hunchback cloaked in a Hefty bag stumping along beside a woman carrying a twenty-thousand dollar purse. And at the same time, overlaid, is a vast nineteenth-century boomtown, raucously alive, eager for the future but nothing rubberized or air-conditioned about it, no hydraulic hush; trains rumbling the pavement, carved limestone women and men—not gods—looking heftily down from cornices as if from a heaven of work and hard-won prosperity, car horns bleating as some citizen in Dockers passes by telling his cell phone ‘that’s how they’re supposed to be.'””We—we men—are the frightened ones, the blundering and nervous ones; if we act the skeptic or the bully sometimes it’s because we suspect we’re wrong in some deep incalculable way that women are not. Our impersonations are failing us and our vices and habits are ludicrous and when we present ourselves at the gates of heaven the enormous black woman who guards them will laugh at us not only because we aren’t innocent but because we have no idea about anything that actually matters.”

“Maybe it’s not, in the end, the virtues of others that so wrenches our hearts as it is the sense of almost unbearably poignant recognition when we see them at their most base, in their sorrow and gluttony and foolishness. You need the virtues, too—some sort of virtues—but we don’t care about Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina or Raskolnikov because they’re good. We care about them because they’re not admirable, because they’re us, and because great writers have forgiven them for it.”

“How about the implication that ‘someone who’s never used’ is a sad and small figure, standing on the platform, sensibly dressed, as the bus pulls in? Even now, after all those ad campaigns, after all we’ve learned about how bad it really and truly gets, there is the glamour of self-destruction, imperishable, gem-hard, like some cursed ancient talisman that cannot be destroyed by any known means. Still, still, the ones who go down can seem as if they’re more complicatedly, more dangerously, attuned to the sadness and, yes, the impossible grandeur. They’re romantic, goddamn them; we just can’t get it up in quite the same way for the sober and sensible, the dogged achievers, for all the good they do. We don’t adore them with the exquisite disdain we can bring to the addicts and miscreants.”

“Bushwick could be the outskirts of Cracow or any one of a number of formerly Soviet Eastern European cities that were grimly industrial under the Soviets and remain not only grim and industrial but increasingly decrepit. Like an Eastern European city, Bushwick has sprouted, here and there, struggling signs of new life—a grocery store, a coffeehouse—intermingled with the dying embers of the old new life, a dim and faded bridal shop, a dry cleaner’s where they seem to believe a window that displays a pile of folded shirts under a yellowing spider plant will be good for business…Bushwick is bleak, no denying it. Bushwick clearly never intended to be anything but bleak. It was always peripheral and utilitarian.  The people who built these warehouses and garages and storage buildings surely didn’t imagine that anyone would ever actually live here. Here in the outer boroughs, this one anyway, we find ourselves in the presence of a different set of founding intentions. If Manhattan rose fundamentally out of the grander ambitions of the Industrial Age, all those muscled worker-gods bearing columns, all those ziggurat-topped buildings rising toward a heaven that had never seemed so near, Bushwick (God knows how old it is) is inherently modest and plain, meant (it seems) from the beginning to be outlying, meant for the making of small parts, the warehousing of goods, like the sturdy but limited old uncle in an illustrious family, a decent man without beauty or imagination who does some small job and never married, who is known but not exactly loved.”

“Youth. Heartless, cynical, despairing youth. It always wins, doesn’t it? We revere Manet, but we don’t see him naked in a painting. He’s the bearded guy behind the easel, paying homage.”

“Silly humans. Banging on a tub to make a bear dance when we would move the stars to pity.”

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