The Game Cafe: Stories of New York City in Covid Time
The Game Café by Eleanor Lerman was honestly one of the best short story collections I have ever read. The book contains nine short stories, each of which focuses on an individual living during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the main characters have very different lives—different professions, genders, sexual orientations, hobbies, and relationships. However, they all have one thing in common: a home or deep connection to New York, a city that keeps these characters thriving and lively.
Although I genuinely have no misgivings about any of the stories in this book, I have to say my favorite was “Reading.” Told from the perspective of Eden, a pharmacy worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reader finds her reuniting with a former colleague, Mrs. Morrissey. Mrs. Morrissey is an elderly woman who can best be described as someone who absolutely adores books. Eden and Mrs. Morrissey’s friendship actually developed from this joy of reading. After having seen Eden stumble into their corporate office one day with a bag of books, the two connected and learned more about each other from their shared hobby. Although Eden no longer works with Mrs. Morrissey, she is happy to see her, despite social distancing, pandemic protocols, and mask-wearing.
From the two friends’ conversations, the reader gathers that Eden has dire health conditions; however, she cannot afford to stay home during the pandemic. Her social security disability checks barely cover her bills, leaving her with no choice but to put herself at risk during this frightening time. As the reader follows Eden through a day in her life, you are able to see the highs and lows of what the most vulnerable of our population faced during the COVID-19 crisis.
The reason why this short story was my favorite was because of the portrayal of Eden. A single woman with two cats, a love of reading, and a completely normal lifestyle, Eden is a relatable character. Likewise, I find many of Lerman’s characters in this collection to have the same normalcy and relevance as Eden. By making the characters average New Yorkers—neither rich, exceptionally special, or fancy—normal, everyday people are able to relate to what these fictional individuals went through during the pandemic. The authenticity of this collection is really what makes it unique and an exceptional read.
Overall, I truly enjoyed every short story that Lerman’s collection had to offer. I would recommend this book to all readers who enjoy short stories, especially those who have a personal connection to New York.
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