Under the right circumstances, even a dilapidated Brooklyn brownstone can save a collection of wounded souls.
Ensemble novels often strain to stay true to all their voices, especially when those voices range across genders, ages, ethnicities, and mental capacities. In her quietly wonderful second book, Alcott (The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, 2012) displays a deft hand with every one of her odd and startlingly real characters. The story centers on a trio of relationships: between Adeleine, a lovely recluse, and Thomas, a damaged artist; between Paulie, a charming 30-something with a mind stuck in youth, and his anxious sister; and between Edith, their ailing landlady, and all the tenants whose daily lives she nurtures before dementia and an estranged son intervene. Alcott’s debut novel was skillful but tempered by a thick layer of surrealism. Here, she allows only glimpses of that dreamscape, and it works to much greater effect. The residents of Edith’s building are united first by geography, then by evident personal flaws, and ultimately by a powerful desire to save their compromised caretaker—and the only place these out-of-sorts people feel they belong. As their lives weave together more tightly, we feel more drawn to them individually and as a family of sorts. Their situation may not be enviable, but Alcott’s handling of it is. The voices in this book speak volumes.
A luminous second novel from a first-class storyteller.