Synopses & Reviews
Following the tremendous success of her first book, a nonfiction work on housekeeping that became a surprise bestseller, Cheryl Mendelson brings to her debut novel the same intensely readable style that made Home Comforts
so popular. In the spirit of Anthony Trollope, she roots her story very much in a specific time and place—1999, in an old-fashioned New York City neighborhood thats becoming rapidly gentrified—and the enormously engaging result resembles a twentieth-century version of The Way We Live Now
Anne and Charles Braithwaite have spent their entire married life in a sedate old apartment building in Morningside Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood filled with intellectual, artistic souls like themselves, who thrive on the areas abundant parks, cultural offferings, and reasonably priced real estate. The Braithwaites, musicians with several young children, are at the core of a circle of friends who make their living as writers, psychiatrists, and professors. But as the novel opens, their comfortable life is being threatened as a buoyant economy sends newly rich Wall Street types scurrying northward in search of good investments and more space. At the same time, the Braithwaites weather the difficult love lives of their friends, and all of the characters confront their fears that the institutions and social values that have until now provided them with meaning and stability—science, religion, the arts—are in increasing decline. Though the group clings to the rituals and promises of such institutions, the Braithwaites imminent departure sends shock waves through their community. As the family contemplates the impossible—a move to the suburbs—their predicament represents the end of a cultured kind of city life that middle-class families can no longer afford.
This intelligent and captivating social chronicle is the first of a trilogy of novels about Morningside Heights; readers sure to be drawn in by Mendelsons habit-forming prose have much more to look forward to.
From the Hardcover edition.
Now in paperback from the bestselling author of "Home Comforts"--the first of a trilogy of novels about Morningside Heights, a saga set in Manhattan focusing on a vivid cast of musicians and intellectuals whose lives are suddenly changing.
About the Author
Cheryl Mendelson received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has practiced law in New York City and taught philosophy at Purdue and Columbia universities. She is the author of Home Comforts
. She lives in New York City, and this is her first novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Anne Braithwaite is extravagant and feels so entitled to her customary luxuries and privileges that it wouldnt be far wrong to call her spoiled. Is it consistent, then, to describe her as also generous, warm, and empathic? Why or why not?
2. Is Annes optimism a flaw or a virtue? Is she a likeable character?
3. Anne refuses to get a job, insists on staying home to care for her children, and thinks day care is wrong. Both Charles and Anne dislike abortion and divorce. Moreover, despite their politics, both feel entitled to the high status that they are losing as the world changes. Would it be fair to describe them as cultural conservatives? Are the values that guide their private lives consistent or inconsistent with their political left-liberalism? Do you agree or disagree with these values? Do you think your own values are consistent with your political beliefs? Do you identify with Charles and Anne?
4. Merrit thinks her psychotherapy had little or nothing to do with her finally being able to let herself love Morris. Is she right or wrong? Despite her psychotherapy, or, at times even because of it, she grows more and more unhappy until the events described near the end of the book. Would she have been better off if Dr. Freilich had prescribed antidepressants instead of pushing for insights? Whats your own general view on the effectiveness of psychotherapy as opposed to prescriptive anti-depressants?
5. Morris Malcolm, an atheist who hates religion, worships science, and accepts Darwinian evolution as a scientific given, is a Republican who thinks of himself as a social liberal. Although he very much wants his baby with Merrit, he does not disapprove of abortion per se. And unlike the Braithwaites, he has had many girlfriends and, for years, lived with someone whom he refused to marry. Given these significant differences in values and style, what accounts for the depth of friendship that exists among the three of them? Would you find the terms “conservative” or “liberal” helpful in understanding their differences?
6. Is the friendship between the atheistic Braithwaites and Greg Merriweather, an Episcopalian priest, realistic? Is Gregs friendship with Morris realistic?
7. Greg seems to have a number of serious religious doubts, an obviously non-literal way of reading the Bible, and questions about his vocation. Should he give up the priesthood? What explains why such a gentle, accommodating, sweet-natured, and just plain good man would be prone to such aggressive religious doubt? Do you think Greg is a believable character? Have you ever met anyone he reminds you of?
8. . Greg thinks, sadly and with compassion, that the Braithwaites and their friends have never really faced up to the fact that someday they have to die. What does he see in them that makes him think so? What connection is the author making between Lizzies death and the Braithwaites blindness?
9. In some peculiar way, Becker responds emotionally to Anne when she goes with Charles and the priests to his law office. She gets his attention, and he aims a good deal of his persuasive lying at her — even though she mistrusts him and conceals her real attitude towards him. Why does Becker react to her this way? Father Quincy detests Becker. How would you describes Annes attitude to Becker? Although the author tells us little of Gregs response to Becker, do you thinkwould it be more like Father Quincys or Annes? Justice Jacobs is patient and calm with Becker. She speaks to him “not unkindly” even though she sees through him completely and obviously understands the enormity of his crimes. Given the terrible nature of those crimes, would you prefer that the judge be angrier and more critical-more of a “hanging judge”?
10. Do you blame Lily for agreeing to marry Morris while knowing that she cannot offer him the kind of love and marriage he wants? Do you think she understands her own motives? What is the nature of her feelings for Jonathan Riesbeck? Is their decision to live together, apparently platonically, tragic or happy or something in between?
11. The Braithwaites are saved from being forced out of Morningside Heights by some fairly unlikely events -- from Gregs willingness and ability to jump in to help legally, and the peculiarity of Lizzies singling them out as her heirs, to the accidental way that they discover whats in the potato bin, and even the strangeness of relying on something like a potato bin. What point is the author making with such obvious insistence on being unrealistic?
12. The author shows, at various points, that her protagonists rely on religion, the insights of psychoanalysis, science, the classical arts, the liberal arts, the ultimate humanity of our legal system, and progressive humanitarian politics -- but without realizing it, and without realizing how precarious is the survival of all these institutions and cultural artefacts. With these facts in mind, as well those listed in question 11, what do you make of the suggestion, on the books last page, that Morningside Heights might be as likely to remake its newcomers as to be remade by them? Of Annes optimistic confidence that in thirty years Morningside Heights wont be much different, in essentials, from what it is today? Do you know any places in your own life that have changed this way? Have similar changes ever profoundly affected your own life or the life of anyone you know?