Friday, June 1, 2007

The New Yorkers

The New Yorkers: A Novel
By Cathleen Schine
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by Andi

Cathleen Schine’s seventh novel, The New Yorkers, is what a dear friend of mine would refer to as a “quiet” novel. Something along the lines of Jane Austen if Northanger Abbey or Persuasion had been set on a single block in Manhattan and Austen harbored a penchant for the canine residents of the neighborhood and their ability to bring the residents of the block together. In Schine’s deft hands, the lives of the neighborhood’s human residents intersect as a result of their meaningful, if sometimes happenstance, involvement with dogs.

In one such case, Jody--an insomniac music teacher and beloved owner of an aged white pit bull named Beatrice--feels her life quite sad and meaningless and slipping away into spinsterhood until she finds meaning in her role as Beatrice’s owner and falls quite madly in love with her neighbor, Everett, upon seeing his smile. But, all is not so tidy and easy in Schine’s world, as Jody goes largely unnoticed by Everett, and is instead fancied by her foxhunting neighbor, Simon. Drama, hilarity and intrigue ensue. This triangle is simply one example of the intersections, bisections and knotty relationships that develop over the course of the novel and take on some qualities of a contemporary comedy of manners.

Schine writes with a charming efficiency which evokes all the warmth and involvement of a Rockwell painting with dashes of sly humor thrown in that often made me giggle aloud. Schine’s narrator often breaks the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly in order to narrate the ongoing story of the neighborhood residents as the reader is drawn into a full year in their lives.

It is difficult to explain the nuances of such a subtly clever novel. I suppose it will have to suffice to say that I felt supremely involved in the lives of the characters by the end of the novel, the highest compliment I can give to an author, as the reason I typically read is to be so thoroughly engulfed by the story that I hate to put the book down. Such was certainly the case with The New Yorkers as I laughed, cried, and so often empathized with the characters’ respective plights (as clichéd as it might sound). I felt in the end that I had gained a slew of new friends that I could carry with me for a very long time.

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