Celia is 30 and she's been widowed for several years, having lost her husband to cancer. After his death, she bought a brownstone composed of four apartments, three of which she rents out to others. She's vetted her tenants very carefully so that they stay self-contained and don't create any drama that might interfere with her isolation. When her upstairs neighbor has the chance to go to France, he brings in a subletter named Hope, a beautiful and vibrant woman who has been betrayed by her husband of many years. Celia is attracted to the pulsing life in Hope and she can't help but hear all of the goings on upstairs, the result of Hope's new dangerous and abusive affair, being reluctantly drawn in to Hope's messy, troubled life and then to her other tenants' lives as well.
Celia values privacy above all else although she has always had a detached interest in her tenants' comings and goings. She has no close relationships herself, holding herself remote from the possibility of feeling emotional pain like she experienced during her husband's illness. So her eventual intrusion into the lives of her neighbors is very definitely an unlooked for intimacy. She narrates her own story in semi stream of consciousness, resulting in a very reflective and sometimes navel-gazing tale. Unfortunately, Celia's remoteness extends to the reader's feelings about her as well, making her not very likable. The other characters, Hope; the elderly Mr. Caughlin, a former ferry captain who goes missing; and Angie Braunstein, whose husband leaves her when their dreams no longer coincide are not fully developed, perhaps because of Celia's long standing lack of desire to know those around her, and as such don't feel three dimensional. Celia's self-destructive and anonymous grasping at life in her random Metro encounters are tawdry and don't help her to become a character with whom the reader wants to spend more time.
The writing here is meandering and self-conscious, occasionally overwritten. The tone never really lifts out of depressing, making the whole novel feel as if there's a damp grey cloth smothering it, even where the end is meant to show hope for the future. Celia learning that continued life is about connection and that shutting herself off from it shuts her out of any meaningful life feels muted as well. This is a very character driven, psychological novel that had so much sadly unrealized potential and I was glad to finally turn the last page.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.