BETTER HOMES AND HUSBANDS by Valerie Ann Leff

BETTER HOMES AND HUSBANDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Debut about the interconnected lives of the residents and employees of a Park Avenue apartment house from the early 1970s to the turn of the new century.

Like most of those big limestone piles that sprang up over the New York Central tracks during the Roaring Twenties, 980 Park is a lot less sedate that it looks from the outside, inhabited as it is by a nervous agglomeration of rich strivers continually looking over their shoulders to see who’s gaining on them. Some, like the Jewish lawyer Richard Sapphire, are arrivistes who have to prove themselves at every step of the game; others, like the Countess d’Alencon are set within the social order as solidly as the North Star. The ones who suffer most seem to be the children (rebellious Sandra Payne has a child by her father’s Jamaican chauffeur) or the wives (bored Shelley Sapphire waits until her 50s to start a career in journalism)—but no one at all seems terribly happy. Some of the class strife is familiar: the building narrowly averts a discrimination suit by admitting more Jewish tenants in the 1980s, for example, and one of the doormen fired in the famous 1976 strike goes on to become a successful fashion designer with a major chip on his shoulder—but there are some interesting and unexpected twists. The granddaughter of a Nicaraguan dictator who begins her New York life as a Latin American Brooke Astor forsakes the parties and the benefits and ends up as a kind of Sandinistan Harriet Tubman, smuggling political prisoners into the States. The Jamaican grandson becomes his racist grandpa’s heir. And a middle-aged Social X-Ray, facing the imminent death of her elderly mother, is miraculously transformed into a human being.

Very nicely done: Leff writes with an insider’s eye and a light, understated style perfectly suited to her subjects.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-33061-8
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2004




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