A young British woman ditches both her boyfriend and her Ph.D. program for a temporary reprieve catsitting in New York City and finds herself enmeshed in the lives of a charismatic aging writer and his aggressively free-spirited daughter in Hoby’s debut.
Taking up residence in the budget boho home of her mother’s one-time best friend—now off on a post-divorce round-the-world tour of self-discovery (“You gotta live, you know?” she advises)—Kate arrives in New York in the summer of 2012 with no particular plan except avoiding her actual life at home. She is lost—in the city, existentially—which makes her available to chance and amenable to risk, and it is in this unmoored state, riding the waves of the city, that she meets Inez, an arrestingly beautiful recent high school grad and lackluster barista who moonlights fulfilling the fantasies of men from Craigslist. It is a modern Shakespearian comedy that brings them together: Inez is waiting for someone named Kate to show up and buy Adderall and meets our Kate instead, a Kate, but not the one she is looking for, and the two strike up an uneasy friendship. Kate is attracted to Inez’s edge; Inez is drawn to Kate’s blank-seeming straightness. But the city, it turns out, is not all that big, and at a gallery opening (enormous paintings of video stills of pornography), Kate meets Bill, a one-hit wonder novelist who has, since his publication at 24, which was followed by a movie adaptation, become a professor, divorced, and assumed his position as bitterly cool dad. What Kate doesn’t know on their first date— doesn’t know until an inevitable scene much later—is that he is, specifically, the father of Inez. Vivid as they are, both Bill and Inez never quite stop feeling like familiar sketches, types of people who never quite ascend to the status of individuals. Kate, meanwhile, rides their waves, a cypher, her distinguishing characteristic being her general lack of them. But Hoby is a master of atmosphere, and if the characters don’t stick, the vibrant loneliness of the city does.
Energetic, if uneven.