Vatner, Jonathan. “Carnegie Hill: A Novel”, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2019.
On the Upper East Side
Jonathan Vatner looks at New York’s elite with an eagle eye for detail and an ear for smart dialogue in his first novel that is great fun to read.
Penelope “Pepper” Bradford is 33-years-old and has no career, no passion and no children. Her parents still treat her like a child and intrude upon her life whenever they can. Pepper does have a boyfriend, Rick, and decides to move, with him, into the Chelmsford Arms and join the co-op board hoping that this will give her some control over her life. But then…. her parents take a deep dislike to Rick and urge Pepper to call off the wedding. The week before the wedding, Pepper sees a trail of desperate text messages from Rick’s obsessed female client and then realizes that her parents might be right about him.
She looks to her older neighbors in the building to help decide whether to stay with Rick, not realizing that their marriages are in crisis, too. Birdie and George’s marriage begins to fail when George is forced into retirement at sixty-two. Francis, after being diagnosed with an inoperable heart condition, alienates Carol, his wife of fifty years, and everyone else he knows. To her surprise, Pepper’s best model for love may be a clandestine gay romance between Caleb and Sergei, a black porter and a Russian doorman.
I suppose that we might classify “Carnegie Hill” as a coming-of-age novel about keeping marriages together as seen through the lives of wealthy New Yorkers and the staff who serve them, “as they suffer together and rebound, struggle to free themselves from family entanglements, deceive each other out of love and weakness, and fumble their way to honesty.”
Pepper is a spoiled little brat who has nothing better to do than to sit around the expensive dollar and be depressed. She has no vocation, no hobbies and nothing to do and she is depressed all of the time. She can’t clean, cook or do anything useful even for herself. She is over-reflects, over-thinks and exaggerates everything.
That’s why her perspective is askew, flawed and unbelievably boring for people who actually do things and are interested in things. There were times that I wanted to stop reading because I saw nothing positive in her character but I knew that sticking with this book would pay off. In fact, I really did not care about any of the characters. However, I realized that they are fun.
Reading “Carnegie Hill” is like watching a television soap opera—–basically, it is made up of love. We have different races, sexual orientations, levels of commitment and even though you might think that they are not “your kind” of people, they grow on you and it is through them that we see how the other half lives. We also see that the wealthy are not always happy.
The Chelmsford Arms is a microcosm of the upper East Side and it is “full of beautifully bizarre mutations that exist nowhere else” or do they?