Vaguely matured author Janowitz (By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee, 1996, etc.) creates a well-rounded, static character, smartly walks her through New York’s social paces, and succeeds in creating a fully adequate novel.
Janowitz characters once were indifferent to the harms they caused others, but Florence Collins at least justifies her innocence. Collins, a 32-year-old unmarried, underpaid employee at an auction house makes the mythic summer pilgrimage to the Hamptons, where Natalie and her husband, John, entertain in high style. Natalie is a winner in Florence’s eyes, having married a wealthy, if unfulfilling, husband. After a trio of mishaps, Natalie accuses Florence of stealing her husband, destroying her sumptuous home, and attempting to drown her child, Claudia (who dies weeks later). Naturally, Florence is exiled back to New York, where her hunt for a mate takes precedence over paying her bills, maintaining her dignity, and keeping her job and her friends. She fruitlessly dates Italian playboy Rafaello, is accused of Claudia’s murder, and spurns the love of sincere-but-penniless Daryl. Meanwhile, she stumbles on a sack of valuable jewelry intended for the auction house, and when fired from the job, she keeps the gems. After a crack-smoking night with Rafaello, Florence is evicted from her apartment, loses the precious jewels, and John scams her out of her last $25,000. And it seems sincere Daryl is secretly wealthy. Though the pace of Florence’s tumble slackens in the second half of the story, the parties, openings, and crack highs are deftly sketched. Yet she learns nothing from her travails: she is an unchanging sensibility in a fickle world. Luck has it that she finds the jewels in the end, her transparent personality unaltered.
While Florence’s declining fortunes in a crass city are well described, her failure to achieve any wisdom about her life makes it hard to sympathize with her misfortunes.