In the rush of traffic jams and missed meetings, it’s all too easy to forget about the mythical beauty that surrounds New York City when you’re too caught up living in it. Tim Murphy’s latest novel, “Christodora,” is the latest work that takes the more fantastical elements of the city and grounds them indelibly in the reality of the city’s sometimes less-than-glittering past. On Oct. 19, Murphy visited The Strand Bookstore to host a reading and discussion for members of New York Magazine’s Vulture Insiders Book Club.
Murphy’s imaginative, deeply impactful novel focuses on the intertwining lives and time eras surrounding the East Village’s iconic building, the Christodora. In his book, the time-woven structure is home to a young privileged and artistic couple, Milly and Jared, and their adopted son Mateo, whose birth mother died from AIDS. Their neighbors are a gay Puerto Rican man and a celebrated AIDS activist, who leads the life of a lonesome addict.
Murphy’s story unfolds as 1980s protesters become hipsters of the 2000s, who are then replaced by a city of glass towers overrun by the yuppies of the 2020s. Mateo and his parents wrestle with their past, their future, changes and growing up. Through the simultaneously alluring and destructive nature of drugs, the heartbreaking 1980s AIDS epidemic, gay activism and a coming of age story, Murphy’s captivating novel presents compelling realities about New York City’s past and future.
Murphy was joined by Vulture’s books editor, Boris Kachka, to delve into Murphy’s own experiences, the history of the Christodora and the writing process. Murphy had been a reporter for 16 years and his writing focused on culture, politics, LGBT issues, New York based events and the AIDS crisis.
“I dabbled before that and published two novels,” said Murphy humbly. “Getting Off Clean” and “The Breeders Box” were published soon before Murphy was diagnosed with HIV. Now, he has created a legacy with his third book, “Christodora.”
The process took “three and a half years for the first draft,” Murphy said. “It was another three years for editing, seeking agents and redrafting before it was published.”
After reading an enthralling chapter from the novel, Murphy explained the history behind his fascination with the Christodora. “It was winter. I was walking past the park and the building was looming. There was something forbidding about it. I looked into the archives. The name Christodora means ‘gift of Christ.’ The history of the Christodora was that it began as a dump and was revived. Later, rioters stormed the building, chanting ‘Die, yuppie scum.’” The audience laughed, and Murphy chuckled. “These changes and different lives reflected the city, I thought.”
He explained his process of writing, describing the nature of time in the novel. “In terms of why it jumps around as far as time, I think I did that because I’ve lived [in New York City] for 25 years. The city becomes dense. You walk around and find yourself somewhere you haven’t been in a while and memories flood back to you. Suddenly it’s not 2016 anymore. It’s 2000. I wanted to capture that element of the city in my book.”
As an activist, Murphy stated some of the major importances of the novel as it has impacted his readers. “What has been really gratifying is hearing from people who haven’t necessarily followed AIDS closely tell me after reading my book, ‘I had no idea.’”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 24 print edition. Email Khrysgiana Pineda at [email protected]