Five years after her young husband’s death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one another’s privacy. Celia believes in boundaries, solitude, that she has a right to her ghosts. She is determined to live a life at a remove from the chaos and competition of modern life. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husband’s recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia’s world are tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered—through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. Ultimately, Celia and her tenants are forced to abandon their separate spaces for a far more intimate one, leading to a surprising conclusion and the promise of genuine joy.
I wanted to like this book. I really did. And in some ways, I suppose, I did, but not enough to make me feel like this is a completely worthwhile read. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
As literary fiction, I didn’t expect car chases and the like, so it is not that which made this a bit of a dull read. The problem, I feel, is that while we get a lot about the protagonist’s inner workings, we still don’t really come to relate to her in any substantial way. Yes, the writing is lovely, with some breathtaking phrases, but it is not enough to keep me reading. My mind wandered away from the pages many times, and it shouldn’t have, not with the kind of emotional depth the author is trying to reach.
There is no real plot, which, as I said, is fine, but there also isn’t a real structure to the novel, which made it feel insubstantial. Actually, the entire thing put me more in mind of a short story collection with an overarching theme than an entire novel.
I don’t want to tell anyone not to read it, since there are some memorable passages, but I do want to lower expectations on the overall book. This one was not one I’d probably read again.