A Manhattan comedy of manners with a melancholy undertow.
The vagaries of parking in New York City figure prominently in Quindlen’s ninth novel, which begins with a moment of parking karma: Charlie Nolan has just scored a permanent spot in the small outdoor lot on his Upper West Side block. Charlie, an investment banker, and his wife, Nora, who runs a jewelry museum, live in a town house surrounded by other town houses owned by affluent types much like themselves; the only blight on the block is a single-room-occupancy building. The Nolans have been married for almost 25 years—not unhappily, not quite serenely—and are parents of college-age twins. Nothing much happens in the first 100 pages or so, but the author’s amusing digressions—on dogs, rats, parking tickets, housing prices, and other city obsessions—keep things moving. Then a violent act shatters the calm on the Nolans’ block: Hot-tempered Jack Fisk, partner in a white-shoe law firm, takes a golf club to mild-mannered Ricky Ramos, the neighborhood handyman, who’s had the temerity to block the entrance to the parking lot with his van. And simmering issues of race and class boil over. (Earlier, when Nora visits Ricky at his home in the Bronx—getting lost, of course, on the way—there’s a whiff of Bonfire of the Vanities.) The golf-club incident also has consequences for the Nolan family. The title of the book, it turns out, doesn’t just refer to parking. Quindlen’s sendup of entitled Manhattanites is fun but familiar. And though the author has been justly praised for her richly imagined female characters, Nora can seem more a type than a full-bodied woman.
There’s insight here—about the precariousness of even the most stable-seeming marriages—and some charm, but the novel is not on a par with Quindlen’s best.