Metropolis is a compelling page-turner about the lives of six people all connected to the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We see how their lives intersect, and then for the most part, come apart at the seams when someone falls down an elevator shaft.g
The most compelling parts of the story for me had to do with three of the renters: Marta, a grad student and undocumented immigrant on the run from ICE; Liddy, a woman trapped in a marriage to an abusive man who uses her storage unit for escape; and Jason, a corporate lawyer turned immigration lawyer who takes on Marta’s case. I thought all three characters were very richly drawn; I was sucked into their lives and their various troubles. I sympathized heavily with Marta’s dealings with ICE, and I full-on hated Libby’s monster of a husband, Garrett. I just wanted both women to find happiness, and even though Jason’s troubles were fairly mild in comparison, I absolutely love him as a character, and love how much he genuinely cares about helping people in need.
I also found Rose, the building’s office manager, an interesting figure that straddles the lines between heroine, anti-heroine, and outright villain. She takes kickbacks to allow renters to live in their storage units (Libby, Marta, a photographer named Serge) or use them as office spaces (Jason), and she lets Serge go into other people’s units to take photos without their permission, which is all pretty shady, but she’s also genuinely interested in the renters and their lives. Later on, she makes a decision that’s just morally wrong on so many levels and has a truly terrible impact on another character’s life, but her reason for doing so is relatable.
Zach, the building’s owner, is also an interesting figure. We meet him at a low point in his life; the contents of the storage units are being auctioned off. Zach’s dealing with the huge financial losses and legal ramifications of the person’s fall in his building, and trying desperately to turn his life back around. He mostly acts for purely selfish reasons, for example, wanting to sell the photographs in Serge’s unit just to set himself up in a new career as an arts taste maker, never mind if he can’t find Serge to share in the profits. But there’s something scrappy about him that also makes him easy to like. He’s an anti-hero brought low, and it’s hard not to root for him to climb his way back to the top.
Ironically, even though so much of the story hinges on Serge’s photographs, both plot-wise and in terms of giving the book its literary feel and at-times poetic tone, Serge himself turns out to be a fairly minor figure. We get a few chapters from his perspective, and there’s hints of a more complex tragic backstory, but he mostly just fades into the background of the story. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I actually found the subplot about his photographs to be the least interesting amongst the various characters, but given the vulnerable and transient nature of the character himself, it’s perhaps sadly fitting that his story too ends up fading into the background.
In terms of the big turning point in the story — someone falls down the elevator shaft — I found the scene itself and the resulting fallout to be very well done. That moment really ramps up the pace of the story, and creates some truly villainous moments for some of the characters. And even when I thought I knew where the story was heading, there were enough surprises along the way to keep me hooked.
Overall, I found Metropolis to be compelling, moving, and exciting. I devoured it in a weekend; I ended up caring a lot for some of the characters; and for the most part, I’m deeply satisfied with how some characters’ stories turn out.
Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.