If you read books completely at random as I do you may be able to appreciate a phenomenon that occasionally occurs: back to back or strings of seemingly unrelated titles that have an important yet specific shared theme: Thematic tendency, if you like. Perhaps this happens more often than you know (awareness plays a big role) and perhaps (cue the spooky music) there is more at work here than mere chance.
Case in point: the last couple of novels I've read deal at some juncture with a rather negative assessment of New York City. In Mother's Milk by British author Edward St. Aubyn, London barrister, Patrick Melrose, brings his family to America on holiday. After dealing with the stereotypical super-sized American family on the flight over, they seem to encounter all that is tacky, bombastic, or just plain wrong with Yankee culture.
After events converge which prove frustrating to Patrick, he gives in to a little misplaced aggression. In their NYC hotel room, the curtains are "filthy." This touches off a mini rant: "The reason why the rest of New York is breathing lovely clean air is that we've got these special pollution filters in our room sucking all the dirt out of the atmosphere. Sally said the decoration in this place 'grows on you'--that's exactly what I'm worried about. Try not to touch any of the surfaces."
The New York episode is told from eight-year-old Robert's point of view. Next, the pizza restaurant in which they decide to dine in a quest for familiar fare fails miserably to stack up. Here they attempt to place an order with their waitress, Karen:
"His mother smiled at her and said, ‘Could we have a Vesuvio without the pineapple chunks or the smoked turkey or…’ She started laughing helplessly.‘I’m sorry…’
‘Mummy!’ said Robert, starting to laugh as well.
Thomas scrunched up his eyes and rocked back and forth, not wanting to be left out. ‘I mean,’ he said, ‘it’s incredible.’
‘Maybe we should approach this from the other direction,’ said Robert’s father. ‘Could we have a pizza with tomato, anchovy, and black olives.’
‘Like the pizzas in Les Lecques,’ said Robert.
‘We’ll see,’ said his father.
Karen tried to master her bewilderment at the poverty of the ingredients.
‘You want mozzarella, right?’
‘How about a drizzle of basil oil?’
‘No drizzle, thank you.’
‘OK,’ she said, hardened by their stubbornness."
In the Central Park Zoo, young Robert spots the carousel and simply must partake of its grotesqueries:
"Soon it was going fast, almost too fast. Nothing about the carousel in Lacoste had prepared him for these rearing snorting horses, their nostrils painted red and their thick necks twisted out ambitiously towards the park. He was on a different continent now. The frighteningly loud music seemed to have driven all the clowns on the central barrel mad, and he could see that instead of being disguised by a painted sky studded with lights, heavily greased rods were revolving overhead. Along with the violence of the ride, this exposed machinery struck him as typically American. He didn't really know why. Perhaps everything in America would show this genius for being instantly typical. Just as his body was being tricked by a second afternoon, every surprise was haunted by this sense of being exemplary."