Three disparate narrative elements—a possible terrorist attack, the real-estate market in New York City, a sick dachshund—somehow cohere into a blackly comic yet tenderly touching novel.
Alex and Ruth Cohen have been living in the same co-op apartment for 45 years. Alex is an artist; his current project is turning his wife’s FBI file into a manuscript. Ruth, who has put her political past to rest, is a retired teacher with a fondness for Anton Chekhov. Right now, the elderly couple has plenty to worry about. Highest on the list is their beloved dog Dorothy, whose back legs seem to be paralyzed after a seizure. Also, they can no longer handle the five flights of steps to their apartment, so they’re looking to sell it and find something more convenient. Perhaps, with the million dollars they’ve been led to believe the place is worth, they could even move to the Jersey shore or to that island off the coast of North Carolina that Ruth has read about. There are, however, numerous flies in this particular ointment, for something odd is happening in the Midtown Tunnel. A gas truck has jackknifed, and police are quickly evacuating everyone; rumor spreads that it could be a terrorist attack. Alex and Ruth try to follow the news reports that come in fast and furious. Abdul Pamir, the truck driver, carjacks a taxi, then abandons it and takes hostages in a Bed Bath & Beyond. If terrorists are that close, Alex and Ruth’s real-estate agent tells them, the apartment could be worth far less than they had hoped. Then there’s the state of Dorothy’s health…
Could have been loopy in less deft hands, but Ciment (The Tattoo Artist, 2005, etc.) keeps things lively and edgy throughout.