In a tricky but deft debut, Anna Karenina is reincarnated as an Upper East Side cougar.
Reyn lays her own ironic portrait of the Russian Jewish immigrant community in New York (its taste for discount shopping, its dubious fashion sense, etc.) over Anna Karenina’s familiar framework. Anna Roitman was nine when her parents left Moscow for Queens, where she grew up bullied at school but found distraction in romantic fiction, reading Wuthering Heights 14 times. Her “Russian soul,” her immigrant otherness and physical charms seem to set her apart, but after a sequence of unhappy love affairs she eventually enters into a late, loveless marriage with wealthy Alex K., with whom she has a son, Serge. Still yearning for intellectual companionship and “the wild beating of the heart,” however, she falls for David, a young adjunct comp assistant professor and the boyfriend of her cousin Katia. Unable to keep the affair secret, Anna confesses her love to Alex and leaves her comfortable home to live with David where, after the initial rapture, anxiety and jealousy set in and money is tight. Meanwhile another romantic, Lev, has married Katia but fantasizes about Anna. Lev’s marriage trembles but does not fall. Anna, despairing as David’s shortcomings grow clearer and her own choices narrow, finds her destiny on Lexington Avenue, at the 6 subway station.
Although short on tragic impact and mildly anachronistic, this transposition of a 19th-century literary paradigm to the 21st nevertheless offers wit and insight, and a pungent portrait of New York.