- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 12 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375760687
- ISBN-13: 978-0375760686
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 281 g
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,353,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Morningside Heights: A Novel Paperback – Jul 12 2005
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Praise for Cheryl Mendelson and Home Comforts
“Cheryl Mendelson is the author of the strangely compelling new book Home Comforts, [which contains] as promising a germ of a domestic novella as might be found anywhere.”
—The New Yorker
“It’s an extraordinary achievement that has no peer in this century and may well have none in the next. A lawyer with a degree in philosophy, Mendelson writes with grace, wit, and exactitude on a staggering range of material.”
“Although it’s a reference work, Home Comforts packs the punch of a major novel.”
“Wildly comprehensive...full of revelations...What is most interesting about this book is Ms. Mendelson’s point of view.”
—The New York Times
“Not only illuminating and practical but also, most surprisingly, crisply entertaining.”
—The Wall Street Journal
From the Hardcover edition.
From the Inside Flap
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 that's 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 area's 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 predicamentrepresents 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 Mendelson's habit-forming prose have much more to look forward to.
"From the Hardcover edition.See all Product description
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Charles and Anne have a motley crew of friends, such as the neurotic Merrit, a beautiful and scholarly woman who undermines her chances at happiness by always falling for the wrong men. She has always had a special enmity for a scientist friend of the Braithwaites named Morris, and Morris unexpectedly becomes a part of her life when he moves into the Braithwaite's building.
"Morningside Heights" is a psychological and sociological look at a group of quirky, self-absorbed, well-educated, and sophisticated urbanites who have a tendency to overdramatize the events in their lives. Although the characters are lively enough, Mendelson's writing style is stilted and her dialogue does not ring true. Mendelson also goes into each character's rambling inner thoughts in detail, and these passages are often more tedious than enlightening. There are some plot twists involving the estate of an elderly neighbor and Merrit's tortuous love life, but these surprises are not enough to save the book from its own pretentiousness.
The central characters, however, are definitely the story's strength. Most of the characters in Morningside Heights are in difficult situations made either from their own choices, or by external forces that they can't control. The most interesting characters and the centerpiece to the narrative are the sweet and unshakable Anne and Charles Braithwaite who are struggling to raise their children, while also struggling to maintain a certain lifestyle to which Anne had become accustomed. Financially stretched, and overburdened, they are forced to make difficult choices about staying in Morningside Heights. There's also Morris, the research scientist, arrogant, impetuous, who secretly likes Merrit, the social researcher, who in turn has insecurities of her own involving getting older, remaining unmarried and missing the opportunity to have children. Apart from Charles and Anne, none of the other characters where really that interesting to me, in fact, I found most of the secondary characters, by enlarge, quite self-indulgent, self-obsessed and insufferably dull.
I did like the way Mendelson infused the narrative with descriptions of the Upper West Side New York, giving us a potted history of the area. She also makes some interesting social comments the disparities between the rich and the poor, and how the "new money" pushes out older tenants who can no longer afford to stay. The poor, aged and homeless line up for Merriweather's soup kitchen, while the local apartment association plots to rid the complex of the aged renters, and the tenants who can no longer meet the upkeep on their apartments.
Morningside Heights starts out with good intentions, the first chapter, for example, really sets the scene giving us a history of the area for what one hopes is a riveting, intriguing story of domestic life. But as the novel progresses the Mendelson's cluttered style gets in the way, and consequently, story just becomes a rambling, longwinded and wordy mess. This is a real pity because Cheryl Mendelson probably has some really good things to say about human relationships
Anne and Charles are one such couple: He, an under-rated opera singer, has a studio at home in their rent-controlled Morningside Heights apartment; she, a former concert accompaniest, takes care of their three children while taking her microcosm of the world very seriously indeed. She thinks nothing of purchasing a thousand-dollar violin for her 3-year-old, but dresses her daughters in hand-me-downs to save money; she serves truffles and caviar at her dinner parties, but refuses to take a cab. One should hate such people, but the very subtle way in which each is portrayed makes the reader (at least this reader) love them instead.
Then there is Merritt, an internationally known writer who can't keep a man to save her life, and Morris, a curmudgeonly scientist who thinks it might be time to get married. Both dear friends of Anne and Charles, they hate each other mightily, but can't seem to find anybody else they like better.
Add to the mix a very odd and hilarious assortment of highbrow intellectuals who take themselves oh-so-seriously, and you have a modern-day comedy of manners that reminds one of Henry James.
I loved this book. It's not for everybody, but I found it refreshingly different and look forward to the next by this interesting author!
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