Two half-brothers separated by age, wealth, and marital status come to grip with their father’s death in City of Strangers. Their dad was a Nazi sympathizer so the mourning is complicated, to say the least. And the younger brother gets attacked by a mysterious mugger seeking revenge (that part does not always make sense, I must admit). The book is essentially a rumination on what it means to be successful, and how we can be very alone in a vast city, with wonderful asides on what it means to be a brother.
The Friend is a clever novel within a novel that apparently focuses (very movingly) on loss, grief, and love between humans and dogs, but it’s also the story of a great friendship and a woman who might lose her mind to an obsession. Excellent!
The Woman in the Window is a New York psychologist whose agoraphobia prevents her from leaving the house. Even retrieving a package from her doorstep is an ordeal. New neighbors move in, and with them a teenager who seems to be the only person who can penetrate her life — and then it all goes very wrong, in completely unexpected ways. It’s a delightful mystery with plenty of twists and a harrowing ending.
I very much want to believe that The Heirs is a satire of a wealthy family, who inconveniently discovers, after the death of the father, that he had a second family on the side, but I am not so sure. And the blind assumptions pile up: children with moderate academic ability will go to Princeton, because, legacy. We will purchase vast apartments side by side to house our biological child and mother (long story!) because, inherited money. We will actually purchase an entire hospital wing, also because, money, inherited. And obsessively track the genealogy of anyone we meet so we can position them within the limited 400 families that count.
If it comforts you, read the book and see that the rich do have similar (if better hidden) problems with their wives, husbands, ex-boyfriends, children, and themselves.
What the Dead Leave Behind stars a plucky heiress whose stepmother is plotting against her and who literally fights for her life with the help of loyal servants and various family friends. The story is told with abundant, self-conscious period details (even though the very personality of the heroine is quite anachronistic).
The twists and turns go on just a tad too long, but overall an entertaining plot and set of characters.
Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City will please New York City fans with its drawings of hundreds of buildings and its stories of secret subway stations and various lesser-known New York heroes. My favorite part of the book are the many plates contrasting New York City blocks then and now, which show rags-to-riches changes, and vice-versa, and how movie theaters can be turned into all kinds of other uses. The author clearly yearns for the past (and bemoans the high rents, which forced her away), and it’s interesting to note how the very improvements that she depicts also bring the gentrification that she laments.
The Ninth Hour tells the life of a woman born in Brooklyn in the early 20th Century after her father committed suicide and her mother came to work at a convent, on charity and under the protection of a formidable nun.
I found that the story sometimes veered towards awkwardly anachronistic feminism, and sometimes the other way, extolling the never-failing sanctity of the nuns, but the ending is certainly unexpected (a murder!) and it’s useful to remember how nuns served as social workers and nurses at a time when other help just was not available.