This claim seems a bit overblown, nowadays, when used copies of the book sell for pocket change on Amazon. It's a shame, because as bleak as its plot sounds, Providence is actually a joyous novel. In a voice that flickers between Fitzgerald ("With the sun lighting the crests of those long rollers coming into Narragansett Bay from Europe and God knew where, it was impossible to deny the myth of eternal progress") and Hunter S. Thompson ("They busted out of Providence laughing, armed with drugs"), Wolff churns through our landmarks, our customs, our history, and produces a deliciously plausible farce.

Providence has changed since Wolff's day. The city boasts a new mall, a spruced-up river, and cleaner air. (In the novel, someone on College Hill asks, "Do you smell shit?") Public opinion has shifted, too, thanks to NBC's glossy "Providence" and articles like that in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, dubbing Providence "New England's Coolest City."

Now, Wolff's novel isn't simply a fun read; it is a relic of a seedier, though perhaps more entertaining, time in Providence history. Read it and you trade the city's recent 375th birthday fireworks for a single "red umbrella flare hang[ing] in the night above Providence" — a distress signal fired by a frightened mother on Benevolent Street.

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