So Anna Quindlen finally decided to write a love letter to New York City. Manhattan, to be precise. And while she may point out its foibles and idiosyncrasies, even the bad stuff is wrapped up in love.
Nora and Charlie have been married for many years and have boy and girl twins in college and a dog. They live in a townhouse which is crammed in between the townhouses on either side of them, all on a dead end street in Manhattan, an almost unheard of thing in the city. This is a clannish group of New Yorkers who share a handyman and a small parking lot, overseen by George, the self-appointed street mayor, issuing coveted parking spots, warning about any infractions to the desired appearance of the block, and offering non-negotiable recommendations of flowers to plant and when to put out the holiday decorations.
Nora and Charlie consider theirs to be one of the better marriages among their circle of friends. They are well off, and attention to class distinction is paid here. Charlie is an investment banker, but his career has never taken off the way he thought it would and he dreams of leaving the city for greener pastures. Nora is the director of a small, private museum and loves her job, her family, and most of all, her home, but definitely feels that something is lacking in her life.
Then one of the neighbors, a wealthy attorney with a viscous temper, attacks the Latino handyman, beating him with a golf club and causing serious injury because his truck was blocking the parking lot. The neighbors are divided; was it provoked? Was it an accident? Charlie was a witness and stands up for his neighbor, but Nora heard the whole thing and knows Charlie is wrong. That incident creates a wedge in their marriage and in the neighborhood, causing feelings to shift and change and ultimately deteriorate.
An interesting look at friendship, marriage and class warfare within the city that never sleeps, with lots to talk about for book discussion groups. I didn’t love it, maybe because I need at least one character to care about, to relate to, and Nora just barely made the cut. I’m from New York and know people like her so I understood her, but also know I could never be friends with her, and fortunately that is not a deal breaker. The book did give me pause – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Thought provoking for sure.
3/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen. Random House (March 20, 2018). ISBN 978-0812996067. 304p.