New York is a city in which the fabric of space-time seems particularly flexible. It’s not just how the subway, rushing inconsistently at all hours, feels like it could open onto any moment in the past. (It is a time travel portal in Russian Doll and Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop). It’s not just the way the city’s history is right there, all the time, in the names of places, the name of the island of Manhattan itself, the gaping space in the downtown skyline that some of us can never not see.
It’s the way the city is layered with the places it used to be. Things can change so fast that if you live in a neighborhood for more than a few years, you don’t just see a present-day bodega, burrito place, inevitable Starbucks; you see all the places those storefronts used to be, the bars long closed, the coffee shops transformed. “But that was New York,” Emma Straub writes in This Time Tomorrow, “watching every place you’d kissed or cried, every place you loved, turn into something else.”
Natalka Burian’s The Night Shift is set in New York City in the early 2000s (a narrative act of time travel in itself). Jean Smith just quit her job; her beloved boss, famed psychotherapist Myra Goldstein, got a little too friendly and curious about Jean’s past, which Jean doesn’t talk about. She throws herself into not just one new job but two: bartending at Red and Gold in the evenings, and working at a bakery following her bartending shift. The hours are long and late and the distance between the two businesses is just a little too far for convenience.
That’s where the shortcuts come in.