Mendelson proves she has staying power with this subtly drawn second novel.
The author revisits the territory of Morningside Heights (2003): a staid, hyper-professional Columbia University neighborhood of long-married couples and the chronically single. Likable corporate lawyer Peter Frankl and his prickly artist wife Lesley are terribly mismatched, but have endured 30 years together at 444 Riverside Drive for the sake of the children—handsome, happy-go-lucky MBA Louis and sensible, highly intellectual Susan, finishing her doctorate in musicology and already spinsterish though not quite 30. Lesley has essentially harnessed Peter into a moneymaking career and spendthrift lifestyle that are deeply repugnant to him. When she falls into a long coma after a car accident, he feels emotionally released to pursue more academic and artistic pleasures, such as meetings at the dotty, philanthropic Devereaux Foundation, of which he is a member. Manipulative, self-absorbed Lesley’s removal from the family orbit also seems to loosen her offspring’s emotional stays. Susan takes up with a snide, unappreciative Yale playwright she meets at a party thrown by her best friend, journalist Mallory Holmes. Louis, proving his mettle, pursues pretty, intelligent Mallory, whose parents live in the same building as the Frankls. In fact, the whole neighborhood begins to crawl with significant neighbors, such as the creepy, sadistic critic Edmond Lockhart, who invites Peter over for dinner in order to insult him, and timorous, hysterical fellow Devereaux member Hilda Hughes, who develops a poignant crush on Peter that enables her finally to quit a near-lifetime course of psychotherapy. Mendelson effectively narrates Peter’s emotional frustration vis-à-vis his wife, but somewhat derails the story by dabbling in the petty concerns of younger, tertiary characters. However, the author certainly knows her neighborhood, and she has polished an elegant, omniscient prose style modeled on the finest English novelists.
A slow cooker with an unpromising title offers satisfying, intellectual storytelling.