New York Times: Two New Works of Fiction About Mass Transit and a Daring Female Pilot

The New York Times gets their hands on David Duchovny’s newest book Miss Subways and share their thoughts.

By Sam Roberts

“Even now, I can sit in the subway, and look up at the ads, and close my eyes, and there’s Miss Subways.” Mayor Edward I. Koch once recalled. “She wasn’t the most beautiful girl in the world but she was ours. She was our own Miss America.”

Most New Yorkers probably don’t remember those eye-catching girl-next-door photographs. They were conceived by J. Walter Thompson to make the adjacent placards leased by Walter O’Malley’s advertising agency for soap, beer, cigarettes, soda, liquor and laxative companies more inviting.

David Duchovny, the New York-born actor, was just a teenager when the last of the Miss Subways was crowned. He is best known for his television roles as Fox Mulder, the F.B.I. agent in “The X-Files,” and Hank Moody, the novelist in “Californication.” But in his third novel, “Miss Subways” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), he demonstrates unequivocally that, to paraphrase the actor Chris Robinson who portrayed Dr. Rick Webber on “General Hospital,” he not only plays a novelist on TV, but is one.

Literary snobs can rest assured that Mr. Duchovny’s academic credentials are impeccable. He earned a bachelor’s from Princeton and a master’s from Yale, both in English literature, and started a doctoral thesis on a subject that Hollywood agents must be salivating over, “Magic and Technology in Contemporary Fiction and Poetry.”

Mr. Duchovny (whose mother was Scottish and a teacher; his father, the Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who, as a writer, published his first novel at 73) peppers his book with classic literary quotations from “Train of Thought,” that (mass) transcendent and officially-sanctioned infusion of high culture (like today’s “Poetry in Motion”) written on subway walls where the Miss Subways placards were once posted.

“Miss Subways” was inspired by Yeats’s century-old verse play, “The Only Jealousy of Emer” (itself drawn from Irish mythology). Even readers who aren’t fans of the metaphysical will be captivated by the author’s charming narrative and vivid exposition as he recounts the fantasy romance between a struggling writer named Con Powers and Emer Gunnels, a parochial school teacher, who emerges as the novelist incarnate.

Mr. Duchovny recounts a hilarious (and all too realistic) lesson that the teacher’s principal delivers on political correctness. He writes that no sane rider would pull the emergency brake on the subway barring an apocalyptic act (“a damn velociraptor on the loose would be the bare minimum reason”). And he wonders why Emer “marveled at how many activities city dwellers seemed to prize were ones that made you forget you were in New York.”

Mr. Duchovny proves himself as a novelist when Con, Emer’s lover, asks, “‘Do you see this story, this love story, spinning out into infinite variations? Or, are you saying that this one, the one that ends with the man making the ultimate romantic sacrifice for the woman in the eternal struggle between perfection of the life or the work — that that’s the best of all possible worlds?’”

“ ‘I’m a writer,’” she replies. ‘I don’t “say” anything. I write around it.’”

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