Author: Sherri Moshman-Paganos
Published: May 12, 2022
Genres: Memoir, Historical Fiction
“I would give you all of my heart if you loved me!” – Sherri Moshman-Paganos
New York City is a hotbed of possibilities. Many have made it a tourist destination, an indulgent escape for entertainment, and a tamed overgrowth of expressionism performed with modest and courageous finesse. Others find the mythologized Concrete Jungle to be just that: hurdles of concrete and habit-forming jungle. Sporadic, sultry, serpentine, seedy, qualities that seem inescapable in The City That Never Sleeps. It is easy to feel wayward in a bustling place that people somehow call home. Step Lively: New York City Tales of Love and Change challenges and romanticizes the chase of living your dream through vicarious and pernicious vacillation in an idyllic and robust cityscape.
Told in vignettes, Sherri Moshman-Paganos presents a sidestep to the “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” trope of countless New York iterations. Jill, an artistic, ESL teacher, and Alex, a tidy, punctual lawyer, are the young New York couple who serve as the novel’s through line. Outside these vignette’s fuzzy edges, Jill and Alex experience the archetype characters, street vendors, store clerks, bums, and idiosyncratic apartment dwellers. The love in the stories can be categorized into want and need. The latter is missing and is overshadowed by the former. Diametrically opposed, Jill and Alex gripe and bemoan more than they give love and attention. Their relationship puts the “opposites attract” bid to rest in unceremonious ways; rather than understand each other and celebrate their differences (a love of need) they try to change each other indirectly and sarcastically (a love of want). When events happen to them, it comes from a passive and woe-is-me frame of mind. When they cause events to happen, it feels ordinary, obvious, and overbearingly referential to the point of cliché. References to New York are made, but they do not change the characters. New York anachronisms more or less solidify them.
Step Lively is written with the lens of a 1980s zeitgeist, its title referring to the exclamation of conductors for passenger pushers to board passengers onto subway transit. The phrase was introduced in 1904, then changed to “press forward” in 1908; either way, the experience described is linguistically pleasant rather than hurriedly unpleasant for Jill. Granted a trip down memory lane may always be the same, sometimes memory lane goes through bittersweet changes. The watershed moment of John Lennon’s death was used to good effect, presenting a metaphor of a good thing dying, innocence being lost, and the mixed, turbulent feelings of the characters at that time. Lackadaisical moments are far more prevalent however, trapping characters in the past. Grandmother Sadye haphazardly remembers her experiences growing up as an immigrant from Ellis Island and in New York. What is unbelievable and too convenient is Sadye’s lack of memory of a particular French tower. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and the Eiffel Tower is also from France; even someone uneducated, a European immigrant, no less, could recognize this world famous landmark, either mentioned in passing or by image alone, after all this time. It is as if characters are so innocent that they are excused from consequences. A great deal of time is spent on emotional appeals and the logical side of things are safely overanalyzed, lambasted, and tucked away in a classroom. The times change, but the characters do not; if they do change, it is in minute, inconsequential ways.
Memory may not be reliable, but the angst and admiration it stirs cannot be ignored or idolized, only experienced. Step Lively holds the belief, to paraphrase Søren Kierkegaard, that it is better to experience reality rather than to solve its volatility. Margaret Atwood said we all become stories in the end, and as an addendum, memory will continue and change our stories for better or for worse. Step Lively shares that memory better to the detriment of reality.