Moss’s plague-years diary is one of elation: The once again spooky city was a liberating space that reminded him, as a progressive trans man, what brought him there in the first place. For most of the world, the pandemic was an unremediated crisis. For Moss, it was exactly what New York needed. His account is raw, angry, filled with self-righteous invective against hypernormals (grossly characterized conformists who do not fit into Moss’s tribe), and blasé about the health crisis of Covid-19. It is also perhaps the best book on gentrification written in a decade ... funny and gorgeously written. Moss is self-aware; he knows that he is a scold and killjoy and gives the reader a crash course in how these traits are part of a long tradition of queer social critique ... Less convincing is the cross-class and racial alliance that makes up the Leftovers ... This is a vision of the 'cool people'; it is not a story about the Bronx cab driver, the nurse from Queens, or the shopkeeper from Borough Park. Those people also stayed during the pandemic and potentially suffered quite a bit, but their narrative is hardly mentioned because they do not recognize themselves in the coalition of Moss’s 'true' New Yorkers ... At times the analysis is spot on, but it also sometimes devolves to a regrettable form of oppression cataloging, drawing not just on Moss’s working-class background but on his assertion that he belongs as an outsider because he is an 'ethnic white' of Irish and Italian origin, as if these categories carried intense stigma when he was born in the 1970s. Indeed, the constant bohemian credentialing is tiresome and sometimes cringe-inducing ... What gets lost in this overly broad portrait of outsiderness is not only pertinent economic differences but also a larger sense of solidarity that makes room for 'normies' who may study at NYU but want to be a public hospital pediatrician, 'bros' from Nebraska who live in Murray Hill but are teaching math at a public high school, and anyone else who fails to meet bohemian aesthetic categories. The problem is not unique to Moss but a central issue in American politics: stretching the identity categories of marginalization does little to build a broader sense of solidarity or a common mission ... there is something gratifying about Moss’s hatred. It is so pure and bellicose. It is not a dirge for the lost city but a bloodcurdling scream ... For all the limits of Moss’s political vision, the book provides a vivid narrative of hypergentrification at a time when urban rents have produced cities where poor people have nowhere left to go but out.
... passionate and probing ... 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 ... Moss has created an indelible portrait of a city in transition; it vibrates with eat-the-rich energy and time-marches-on poignancy.
Moss’s nostalgic crankiness is in full, cathartic force ... Like other urban queer writers before him — none of whom tracked this more thoughtfully than Sarah Schulman — Moss notes the disappearance of social awareness from the streets ... Having spent so much time analyzing the New People, Moss could have devoted more space, perhaps, to noting that their presence is no natural phenomenon, but the engineered result of decades of economic and housing policy that criminalized the poor ... Moss wanders the city, and we wander with him in a journey that provokes some of the same joys and frustrations as actually living here. Moss strikes up conversations and the plurality of characters begins to feel chaotic, but this breadth of perspectives is the point, and his lively, defiant voice provides an engaging guide. Moss’s thorough cataloguing of the streets brought to mind the underground queer media outlets that once documented the ground-level conversations of community groups; it was also striking to read in an age when local reporting is quickly becoming extinct, even in New York ... Moss is at his best when he turns his questions inward during the book’s memoiristic moments ... A psychoanalyst, trained to follow the fleeting clues left by the unconscious mind, his discussion of normativity, otherness and queer history is enlightening ... In these moments of urban disarray, Moss is an attentively loving witness to New York City ... Rewilding is an ill-fitting frame for this story. An inherently optimistic term, it is also a tonally strange descriptor of the mass death and confusion that we lived through: More than 40,000 New York City residents, disproportionately people of color, died of covid-19 and others languished, suffering in harder-to-detect ways from mental illness, fear, domestic abuse or other ailments. There’s almost no mention of them in this book. New Yorkers were not 'rewilded' during the pandemic; it’s not that romantic. We were struggling (some much more so than others). Of course, Moss is only one person, recounting mostly his own experience of the pandemic. Nevertheless, in downplaying New York’s still present but vanished classes, the book misses an opportunity to explore the starkest dissonance of the era it documents: the disorienting, simultaneous senses of isolation and overcrowding in a city where the air could kill you ... Moreover, the language of wildness and ferality is an odd — even poor — choice for a book that is so primarily about a movement for racial justice and that so prominently features the voices of people of color. Even as Moss shows up for protests, documenting them with the faithfulness of a student, critically aware of his own role in them as a White trans person, it’s a glaring oversight to use language that has so often, and to such violent ends, been weaponized against people of color ... Despite that, Feral City is worth our attention for its striking narrative of a city where radical community flourished in a protracted period of crisis. New York City forges ahead, it’s not just its wildness that Moss and I both hope it retains, but also its interconnectedness, its intelligence and its swagger.