Like it or not, New York City’s annihilation — by fire, plague, asteroid, atomic bomb, or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man — has always been a pop-cultural cliché. As Max Page puts it at the start of his new book, The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction: “It seems that every generation has had its own reasons for destroying New York.”
The author has fiction in mind, but the sentence evokes much more, of course, and that’s part of what makes The City’s End so hard to put down. He digs up long-lost short stories (W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet,” for one), deconstructs best-forgotten films (like Deep Impact), and examines other, assorted artifacts in support of his (rather disturbing) argument: America sublimates its fear of social disintegration — through immigration, racial miscegenation, terrorism, or killer monkeys (see Planet of the Apes, King Kong, etc.) — via imaginative obliterations of the country’s most vibrant old-school metropolis. “No place looks better destroyed than New York,” he writes, letting the implications speak for themselves.
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