The review materials I received with Open City ask me to compare Cole’s writing to that of W.G. Sebald or J.M. Coetzee. I was instead reminded of Wharton and James, of their pacing, of their detailed descriptions of place, history and person and of their slightly god-like distance from their characters and subjects. I read in Open City a kind of sequel to Wharton’s The Age of Innocence: the writing style, similarly precise and clear; the city, even less innocent than it was then. Cole, who is also a photographer and an art historian, has an enviable ability to take a subject, say, the city of New York, and turn it inside out and upside down, shake it out, and examine the contents, then pack it up again. In this, his writing resembles his photography, which, unlike most urban photography, manages to find grand vistas and great heights in the claustrophobic clutter of a city landscape. In a photograph such as this one, a bird’s eye view of what appears to be the interior of a multi-storied shopping mall becomes a delicate abstraction, the suspended star-shaped lights an orderly arrangement of origami, the tiny shoppers, so many ants dotting the background.
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