A nonfictional update on Slaves of New York, Wesley Gibson’s You Are Here leads us through a trippy version of Manhattan known mostly to impoverished creative types who cling to the bottom rung of the city’s social ladder. Gibson arrives from Virginia after a romantic breakup and a slump in his writing career, revved up for a fresh start; instead, he has to scrounge for restaurant and telemarketing jobs along with all the other would-be geniuses. Worse still is the housing situation, teeming with potential psycho killers, like the guy who decorates his apartment with hundreds of G.I. Joe dolls, each one proudly displaying a fully erect penis. Gibson ends up rooming with a pale fellow who’s either crazy or dying. Lying awake at night listening to the sound of this stranger retching, Gibson can’t decide whether to stay mute or call the morgue. Our hero often finds himself in such intimate, horrific situations—like the time an obese neighbor needs to be hoisted off the toilet. “David Lynch had to be choreographing this from behind the opaque shower curtains,” he writes, perpetually caught in a state of panicked bewilderment.
Everything’s coated with the sheen of a funny anecdote, which makes You Are Here an enjoyable but light read. Nothing ever sinks in deep enough to leave scars. But in a way, this isn’t a full-fledged memoir as much as a book about becoming a jaded New Yorker. Gibson will make any psychological adjustments necessary to stick it out, motivated by the cautionary tale of a hometown acquaintance who failed here: This guy stumbled out of a Manhattan sex club one night and hopped a train home, forever leaving behind “the Kiehl’s skin products, the hopes he’d had for a better life. He was now the head waiter at an Applebee’s and lived in the den of his parents’ suburban bungalow.” Forget psycho killers: This is the kind of fear that real New Yorkers understand.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 6, 2004