The book is a tour de force of voice, restlessly hopscotching from first to second to third person, from observation to speculation to reminiscence to indirect citation, in a staccato rhythm that effectively mimes the noise of the city. The identity of the narrator shifts almost sentence to sentence. Sometimes the author is speaking, and sometimes it is someone overheard in a crowd or the sound of someone else's interior monologue or some anonymous emanation from the domain of received ideas. The texture is like the flick of a radio dial across the band, if all the stations had achieved a mysterious unity of subject ... The Colossus of New York is a short book, but its density doesn't make for a quick read. Navigating a chapter is a bit like walking through six blocks of Midtown at lunchtime: everything conspires to slow you down, but you will have taken in more sensations than you could reasonably expect from such a distance anywhere else. Channeling the crowd, Whitehead avoids the taint of Fine Writing; there is a lot of wit on hand, but it sounds like the wit of the people.
As if detailing the anatomy of a sentient being, Whitehead traces arrivals at the Port Authority, above and below ground, across bridges and through squares to their inevitable departures. The cadence throughout is hypnotic and the sensation of seeing into and through the lives that eddy around each other in the city that never sleeps is electric. This is not a guidebook to a city; it’s a treatise on never-ending human love and endeavour.
The tone throughout is cozy and colloquial, with flourishes of whisper-in-your-ear lyricism ... The New York of Whitehead's imagination is an occult world made up of tall tales and legends, of hand-to-mouth wisdom. It's hard to call this kind of writing prose; it would be stretching to label it poetry. Composed against the city's back-beat, grooved by the melody of its voices, Whitehead's style is best described as Duke Ellington crossed with Run DMC, with the occasional sampling of Frank Sinatra. From sentence to sentence, a-ha moments are many. It's as if Whitehead scooped his pen into the collective unconscious of everyone who's ever visited New York -- and borrowed some overheard stories, too -- and came up with a voice that's everyone and no one ... He has tapped into some primal part of the brain where New York lives. He will lead people out onto the city's steel and concrete dance-floor, whether they want to be there or not. Not half bad at all, indeed.
A staccato prose poem to New York by novelist Whitehead, Colossus thrums with anxious excitement and excited anxiety, accommodating the noirish, the reportorial, and the epigrammatic ... The best passages deserve comparison with E.B. White’s Here Is New York; the worst are small marvels of cryptic nonsense ... Still, Whitehead’s deft sketches of the peculiarities of cocktail parties and subway platforms offer tingles of fond feeling.
Whitehead makes it both difficult and easy for readers in this astonishingly evocative view of Gotham. The difficulties all arise from his poetic language. He eschews question marks, commas, and much other interior punctuation ... his paragraphs will drive pedantic grammarians wild (even as they will delight the liberated), for he segues smoothly from first person to second to third—in both singular and plural—as if to ask (without the question mark and comma, of course), 'Hey, what’s the difference?' And yet . . . reading him is as natural (and as uncomfortable) as looking in a full-length mirror. It’s as if Whitehead has heard all of our conversations, smelled our fears, tasted our successes, recognized our falseness, tapped our phones and our fantasies, and, yes, felt our pain ... Poetry in paragraphs.
...a wildly creative view of New York City ... Whitehead is a master of the minutiae of the mundane ... This 13-part lyric symphony is like E.B. White's Here Is New York set to the beat of Ellington or Cage