The book starts out asking the question, “What kind of person is a city person?” Colette Brook’s first paragraph says; “a young girl dreams about a place she’s only heard of in books, in movies, on TV. It is much bigger than the town she grew up. People in that distant place are busy, happy, never bored.”
Brook’s tells us “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”. The voice of the novel wanders the streets of the big cities of the world to find the missing puzzle pieces by listening to conversations, watching the headlines and looking for “random acts of awareness” which are supposed to be the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The voice at one point tells us that it sees. “tourists with cameras, all taking the same shots, and I imagine the thousands of similar photographs that must exist at any given moment throughout the world. Some have been carefully inserted into albums, captioned in countless languages…”
The past and present seem to blur in some of the stories that include, criminals, commuters, and some just sitting in their apartments. One-man mails packages with bombs and another drives a cab studying a new language out of a dictionary at his side.
Apartment dwellers in the city of the 1800’s couldn’t outrun a fire and today some are just alone drinking by themselves in those same apartments. The lives of many seem to turn on a “fork” in the road. On lady feels certain that she see’s a ghost sitting by her on a train. Someone who she had known years ago. She just accepts that the ghost will stay on the train when she leaves.
City people seem to just accept the "forks" in the road. Even the young girl from the first paragraph goes to the city, grows up, and looks out the window at the loneliness she faces and remembers that as a young girl she had a book that explained it all.
“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellaneous