Review: Tabloid City by Pete Hamill
There’s nothing as dramatic as the twilight of an institution, be it the Roman Empire or print journalism. In his latest novel, Tabloid City, Pete Hamill captures the latter through the lens of a contemporary (but fictional) daily called the New York World. The city room of this paper, a 21st-century competitor to the Post and the Daily News whose name is borrowed from the extinct Joseph Pulitzer—Nellie Bly publication, is overseen by 71-year-old Sam Briscoe, a newspaper dinosaur unfortunate enough to witness his medium wither. In a single day, we bounce from Briscoe’s point of view to that of a Brooke Astor–like matron to a pregnant teen in Sunset Park, and so forth. A murder occurs and it’s off to the races, as the characters, who are all related by acquaintance or circumstance, find their story lines intersecting at a rapid clip.
The author handles his large cast with patience and clarity, and the city is well realized, as you’d expect from Hamill (Forever, A Drinking Life), himself a New York institution who has served as editor-in-chief of both of the World’s very real rivals. There is unabashed but not unscrutinized nostalgia for the era of the newspaper and for the city itself; scenes of crusty vets pounding out the crime blotter and hustling for a front-page headline are likely born from Hamill’s own ink-stained history. It’s no stretch to tie the MTA’s edict “If you see something, say something” to the world of reportage, and there’s a somewhat tepid story line that evokes post-9/11 terrorism. But as with any reliable tabloid, there’s always another good story on the next page.