Three residents of an Israeli apartment building narrate their worries and woes.
Nevo (Neuland, 2014, etc.) is a bestselling Israeli author, and his most recent book to be translated into English makes it easy to understand why. His writing is compelling—actually, it’s compulsively readable, as the cliché goes. This novel takes place in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, an area one character labels “bourgeoisville.” It is split along three narrative lines, each corresponding to a character who lives on one of three floors in the same apartment building. On the first floor, there is Arnon, a father who grows obsessed by the idea that his young daughter may have been molested. On the second floor is Hani, a mother and a wife whose husband is always away on business. Devora, a retired judge, lives on the third floor; her husband has died, her son is estranged, and she must build a new life for herself. Nevo uses Devora to remind us, not so subtly, that these three characters match up rather neatly to Freud’s model of consciousness: Nevo has given us the id, the ego, and the superego, all in one novel. Fine; but though we’re drawn in by each of these characters and their various troubles and travails, in the end we’re left wanting. Sure, the stories are engaging (Arnon, Hani, and Devora each speak directly to a different “you”), but the book as a whole doesn’t satisfy. “Do you understand?” the characters say, again and again. “Can you understand?” Yes, of course, you’ll want to respond; but so what?
Nevo is a funny, engaging writer, but his new book settles for cleverness without reaching for something more genuinely moving.