Anyone who has spent time in Manhattan or watched Hitchcock’s Rear Window will recognize the voyeuristic pleasure that jump-starts Mirvis’ (The Outside World, 2004, etc.) third novel, as a bored young mother stands at her apartment window watching across-the-street neighbors in their living room, unaware that the two families’ lives will soon intertwine.
While her lawyer husband, Jeremy, works all hours at his high-pressure firm arranging large real estate development deals, lawyer-turned–stay-at-home-mom Nina is going a little nuts. Trapped in her Upper West Side apartment with 3-year-old Max and baby Lily, Nina spends lonely nights watching a couple reading together in what looks like companionable silence in the building across from hers. Then one day, the couple is replaced by a young woman in a leg cast who argues, then makes love with a young man, aware that she is being watched. The young woman is Emma, who has moved back in with her parents—art historian Claudia and therapist Leon—while her broken ankle heals and she decides how to get out of her engagement. Running into Claudia on the street, Nina recognizes her former professor, who never encouraged her. Nina’s friend Wendy, who presents herself as a perfect mommy, turns out to be one of Leon’s more unhappy patients. Avoiding involvement with his wife and daughter, Leon spends his happiest hours moving his Volvo to obey parking rules. Leon and Nina meet in the neighborhood coffee shop and begin a flirtation. Meanwhile, Jeremy faces a professional crisis that will impact everyone. (The author’s previous fictions were explorations of specifically Jewish communities, and while Mirvis makes only passing mention of Jeremy’s Orthodox upbringing, there is no mistaking her characters’ ethnicity.) It becomes clear that how people appear in the tableaux created by window frames and how they are in real space can be very different.
This dark, witty, if slightly overstructured comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacy’s limitations.