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Book review of Feral City by Jeremiah Moss


Since the early 1990s, Jeremiah Moss has lived in—and fiercely loved—New York City. In 2007, the poet and psychoanalyst launched the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which became the foundation for 2017’s well-received Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul. In blog and book, Moss bemoaned the damaging outcomes of hypergentrification.

Five years on, Moss is back in the fray with the passionate and probing Feral City: On Finding Liberation in Lockdown New York, in which he rails against the results of New York’s tectonic shifts in population and personality during what he calls the “profound accidental experiment” of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Moss expertly and often hilariously indulges his inner curmudgeon when describing the recent influx of moneyed and inconsiderate “New People” and rhapsodizing about the city that emerged once they fled the virus’ epicenter. Along the way, he considers what’s left when the dominant class is skimmed off the top of a city. After all, the New People have other places to go, but what happens to those who have no other options—or a complete inability to imagine living anywhere else?

As Moss walks and bicycles around the city every day, he joins protests and rallies and wee-hours dance parties in search of answers (while avoiding police intent on tamping down rebellion and revelry). He also reflects on his newfound feelings of confidence and freedom as a transgender man who reveled in the joyful queer energy that infused the streets of New York in its feral state.

When officials began declaring that New York should “get back to normal,” Moss felt sad that he (and the city as a whole) seemed to be reverting to pre-lockdown habits. Who and what, he wonders, is normal anyway? Who decides, and why? Is this newly rediscovered rebellious spirit gone for good?

In Feral City, Moss has created an indelible portrait of a city in transition; it vibrates with eat-the-rich energy and time-marches-on poignancy. “One day,” he writes, “the tide will shift and New York will change, as it always does. That, as people like to say, is the one thing you can count on in this town.” Perhaps he’ll be back to write about it when it does.

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