review

Metropolis by B. A. Shapiro

I was excited to read Metropolis.

I loved the idea of a diverse group of strangers all coming together in connection to one event simply because they own a storage unit. Unfortunately, the book did not hold up to its promise. The writing was clunky and repetitive. How many times did I need to read that there was an elevator accident in a baseball stadium that was just like this one? It really read like the book was written in pieces then taken apart and put back together. It had very little flow.

Was it supposed to be a suspense novel? The blurb made it seem like it was but the odd choice to present it out of chronological order removed any suspense or anticipation. Yes, there was an accident involving an elevator that is hinted at early on but when it happens we are removed from the scene and then just read about the aftermath. It was very strangely plotted and paced.

What was the strangest was that no character really felt real.

The street photographer storyline was a cute idea—imagine finding the next Henri Cartier-Bresson or Vivian Maier in an abandoned storage unit but poorly executed. Zach, who isn’t a photographer becomes obsessed with developing the pictures on a really flimsy premise–he is worried there may be incriminating photos in there from his days as a weed dealer–and a huge chunk of Zach’s part of the book is describing him developing film in his bathroom. Then when he tries to show them, there are some predictable yet not terribly believable obstacles (the gallery suddenly closes down after booking the show??) but not to worry, the newspaper’s apparently incredibly influential and tuned in art critic shows up to the makeshift show in the Metropolis and saves the day.

The idea that Zach would have to give his building to the man who fell in the elevator really didn’t make much sense. Nor did the fact that he would have to pay capital gains tax on the “sale”. That was explained poorly and I don’t feel it was accurate. It also didn’t make sense that he had apparently been the best weed dealer in the city but no one knew and he never seemed to get in trouble? Why not just have him inherit the building from some mysterious uncle and let everything unfold from there?

No one in academia would be impressed by Marta/Mercedes’ dissertation topic. We know people who start out on top almost always stay on top. I heard her race/starting line metaphor as a child back in the 1990s. She might be a wealthy woman who never had to think about financial and class privilege (despite being an immigrant from Venezuela where her father was murdered??) but no university would sponsor someone to come to a university from overseas to complete a doctorate with that thesis. Maybe 60 or more years ago. Was the point to drive home the differences between the people of Metropolis and how Zach was falling behind? We already knew that and honestly, it wasn’t an important detail to the rest of the book. We also didn’t know a ton about his family background. He made a lot of money as a drug dealer, does that make him from means like Marta thinks? There is a brief mention of how his parents probably wondered how he afforded his loft which to me implied that his family of origin was not contributing to his life financially and would be very aware of costs.

The man survives the freak accident and makes a largely full recovery and then blackmails his wife into staying with him? What? Why? Make it make sense.

Rose’s character was possibly the most believable, she was distracted by her family troubles and didn’t get an inspection on the elevator when she should have but her child’s escalation from “he doesn’t do drugs to shot in a gangland shootout” seemed a little rush, glib and unnecessary. She find stolen goods from the Metropolis in her son’s closet which didn’t make sense either–if he is a 14 year old criminal/drug addict, why didn’t he just sell them right away? Why hang onto a laptop and a camera. It seemed like a way to point out that Rose didn’t think the camera had much value but why?

It was hard to connect with the characters because nothing anyone did or their backstories made much sense. The skipping around in time made the book strangely difficult to read for one that was written on a very basic reading level. Random people like Zach’s girlfriend and family were mentioned briefly then floated away. People either behaved in the most stereotypical way ever or suddenly announced feelings with no lead-up. Why did everyone love Marta?

I’m sorry to say this was another book for a book tour I didn’t love! I keep joining in for books that sound exactly like what I would like but am very disappointed. Maybe her earlier books are better? I felt like I was reading a different book than the people who wrote the blurbs.

This book is on sale today!

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