August 25, 2013

BOOKS: The View From Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman (2013)

The thing that always strikes me about Lipman, and the reason I so enjoy her books, is that she is kind to her characters; she likes them all, and is willing to see the good in them, even when they've done bad things.

Our central characters here are sisters Gwen-Laura and Margot, each unexpectedly single. Gwen's husband died a year ago, and Margot's marriage ended in divorce after the scandalous trial of her husband, a fertility doctor who sometimes saw to his patients' inseminations a bit more personally than was appropriate. Margot got the penthouse in the divorce, but neither sister has a job, so Gwen is happy to accept Margot's invitation to move in. That doesn't help to pay the bills, of course, so they take in a third boarder, the dashing young Anthony.

The novel isn't plot-heavy in the traditional sense. A lot happens, but it doesn't feel particularly organized towards reaching a climactic moment; it's a more casual narrative of the ordinary things that happen to the sisters and the group of friends and family that forms around them. Gwen takes her first steps into dating; Margot tries to cope when her husband is paroled; Anthony's assorted boyfriends pop in and out.

It's all told with great charm and wit, and even the paroled ex-husband is allowed to be more than just a cartoon villain. It's a novel about the courage to continue after a crushing blow; the strength to support your loved ones (and to accept their support); and the importance of family, whether it's born or chosen. It is both deeply human and intensely humane, and I enjoyed it immensely.

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