Sunday, June 30, 2013

The View from Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman

I'm a fan of Elinor Lipman's novels--their humor, "everydayness," and the optimism that washes through them. The View from Penthouse B has all of those traits along with some timely plot twists. Margot and Gwen-Laura are two sisters somewhat down on their luck. Margot's fertility specialist former husband is in jail for nefarious sexual activity with patients and she lost all the money from her divorce settlement by investing with Bernie Madoff. She sits around her apartment trying to get discovered as a writer by blogging about being broke. After being suddenly widowed, Gwen-Laura moves in to help Margot with the mortgage and to commiserate. Although it's been two years since her husband Edwin died, Gwen-Laura barely leaves the house.

Then the action picks up--they take in a boarder Margot met while he was picketing Lehman Brothers, his former employer. Anthony is much younger than the sisters (in his 20s to their 50s), makes fantastic cupcakes, and offers life advice while doing chin-ups in the doorway. Charles, Margot's ex-husband, gets out on parole and moves into the same building; before long, he is sharing meals with them and introducing them to the son he fathered with a patient, Chaz, a hat design student at the Fashion Institute. Gwen-Laura, meanwhile, abandons her grief support group and tries her hand at Internet dating.

Lipman's themes are family, moving on, and forgiveness, and, while the subplot involving Margot and Charles tests credulity, Gwen-Laura's story is heart-warming. There are a few too many characters who make brief appearances and disappear--Anthony's sister, a beautiful nanny who loses her job because she's sleeping with her charge's daddy; Margot and Gwen's younger sister Betsy; members of the grief group; etc. The View from Penthouse B isn't my favorite Lipman, but it's still good fun.

I do have a quibble with the audio version, which I listened to--the reader, Mia Barron, sounded too young, closer to the age of Anthony than Margot and Gwen.

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