Grunwald’s latest is a quirky ghost story set in Grand Central Station.
Joe is a Grand Central leverman, the railway equivalent of an air traffic controller. It is 1937, and Joe, 32, is crossing the Main Concourse when he first encounters Nora. She is coatless although it is winter. Her dress is antiquated and somewhat shabby, particularly for someone who says she lives in the tony Turtle Bay Gardens neighborhood. Flashbacks reveal that Nora, a 23-year-old art student, had just returned from Paris when she was fatally injured in a subway accident. On Dec. 5, 1925, at 7:05 a.m., she died, lying in a pool of sunlight among other crash victims on the marble floor of the Main Concourse. She has been reappearing sporadically since her death—but only on Dec. 5 at 7:05 a.m. and only if a Manhattanhenge sunrise shines through the east windows. When she ventures too far outside the Grand Central complex, she vanishes. Joe and Nora, who have fallen in love, wonder how to assure her continuous presence. Is there an allowable distance she can stray? In 1941, finagling free rooms in the Biltmore (accessible from inside the terminal), they set up a household of sorts. But then comes Pearl Harbor. Joe’s "essential personnel" status keeps him at home, but when his brother, Finn, enlists, Joe shoulders responsibility for Finn’s wife and children. The war, and the dawning realization that Nora can never age or live normally while Joe will grow old, puts pressure on the couple. Much of the novel is taken up solving the supernatural logistics, which can be intriguing. Although the history of Grand Central is fascinating in itself—who knew there was once an art school there?—the dimensions of the story are as tightly circumscribed as Nora’s material world. Despite the static narrative, rendered more so by the leisurely pace, the characters come alive and make us want them to stay that way. The ending comes as a satisfying surprise.
An ingenious and winsome novel.