In the coming weeks, Nina encounters the older couple, Leon and Claudia, their daughter Emma and her fiance, and many others on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood, eroding the safe distance of her secret vigils. Soon anonymity gives way to different--and sometimes dangerous--forms of intimacy, and Nina and her neighbors each begin to question their own paths.
With enormous empathy and a keen observational eye, Tova Mirvis introduces a constellation of characters we all know: twenty-somethings unsure about commitments they haven't yet made; thirty-somethings unsure about the ones they have; and sixty-somethings whose empty nest causes all sorts of doubt. Visible City invites us to examine those all-important forks in the road, and the conflict between desire and loyalty.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-06
- Reviewer: Staff
“If you keep talking to strangers… eventually they become friends.” Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers. Mirvis sets her story on New York City’s Upper West Side where two families live in high-rise apartments with their curtains open, one apartment’s windows facing the other’s. Nina, a restless ex-lawyer and current stay-at-home mother, is in possession of her son’s toy binoculars. To fill the lonely hours until her lawyer husband Jeremy gets home from work, she watches, with admiration and growing jealousy, an older couple across the way. One evening, instead of seeing two peaceful companions reading quietly on the couch, Nina sees a youthful couple (temporarily staying in the older couple’s apartment) in a lustful and heated embrace. The sight makes Nina reinterpret the comfortable and quiet love of the older couple, and wish for something closer to what the young couple has. Her new mindset is further complicated when fate steps in, and the lives of Nina’s family and the strangers in the window collide. In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvas elicits the reader’s sympathy for her characters’ conflicting desires. (Mar.)
Thou shalt meet thy neighbor
If we’re all stars in the stories of our own lives, then the people we pass on the street, in the elevator or in the park are extras. And when those stories are lived out in the apartments, coffee shops and streets of New York City, there are an awful lot of extras. Although New York residents often feel anonymous among the city’s millions, proximity means their lives repeatedly brush against one another’s.
That proves to be the case in Visible City, the charming new novel by best-selling writer Tova Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary, The Outside World). Nina, a mother of two and a former attorney, often checks out of her own story and into those of others by observing a couple whose apartment is visible from her own Upper West Side flat. The older couple’s calm interactions enchant her—until one evening she spots a quarrelsome young couple in their place. Who are these people? How do they relate?
Nina’s curiosity is satiated after she meets the male half of the older couple at a neighborhood Starbucks. And as she continues to encounter Leon around the neighborhood, her veil of anonymity slips away. “[I]f you kept talking to strangers,” Leon realizes, “eventually they became friends.”
That friendship gradually reveals parallels between these two families on opposite sides of the street. Leon’s wife, Claudia, an art professor, has lost the motivating thirst for her work, just as Nina has. But therapist Leon and attorney Jeremy, Nina’s husband, continue to hide themselves away in their occupations. Meanwhile, Leon’s daughter Emma, who is half of the young couple Nina spotted, begins to babysit for Nina’s children.
As the neighbors’ paths continue to cross, the metaphorical walls behind which they hide fall away. “Even in this city of so many people, there was no escape from the expanding web of intersections,” Leon realizes.
In Visible City, Mirvis steps away from the Orthodox Jewish society that has populated her previous work to explore these entanglements of big-city life. As the lives of Mirvis’ three couples become increasingly intertwined, readers’ curiosity will be piqued, just as Nina’s was when these neighbors were merely strangers.