Cover Image: The Party Upstairs

The Party Upstairs

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Member Reviews

The blurb and cover for this book was one that really caught my eye. Maybe it's being in a college city for the past couple of years, but gentrification has become a well-discussed issue and I thought this book's topic was right up my alley.

Essentially, The Party Upstairs follows Ruby, who is friends with someone much more privileged than she is — Caroline. After taking out student loans to go to college and still feeling far away from her dream job, Ruby has to move back home and experience the violence of class for herself as Caroline throws a luxurious party.

Ultimately, I felt as though the biggest barrier to enjoyment for me was the writing style, which was just a little too wordy and roundabout for me. I'm all for descriptions and tangents in writing when they tell us a little bit about a character's past or what a setting looks like, but when it gets to this point:
"...the heat pipe in the living room thumped and he remembered how the woman in 4B had recently complained about the thumping coming from 5B, which was caused by the private tango lessons the woman in 5B was taking with the woman in 2C, who had recently divorced the man who had once lived in 7D and who had lost his job in advertising..."

This went on for so long — a page, at least, and it just didn't feel like it added much to the story, to the characters, and felt more tedious to read than enjoyable, which it might've been had it been shorter.

It was the writing style that prevented me from connecting with the characters too — neither Martin, Caroline, nor Ruby were very likable and because of the writing style it was hard for me to really get a clear idea about what each character was like and to follow the character development.

For the plot, there's certainly something very interesting about a story that takes place within such a short period of time. It reminds me a bit of The Night Before by Wendy Walker: quick set-up, quick build-up, and quick unraveling. I think the plot was actually quite interesting for me in the last 30%, but I think it took too long to get there and by then I wasn't very invested in the characters.

Ultimately, I don't think this book was for me, though it had a lot of potential in its subject matter. People who are interested in class-based thrillers might want to give this a shot!
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3.5 stars

Here we have a book that is unique and quirky and unlike anything I've ever read before. It's a 'day in the life' story set at a New York City apartment building where you have a cast of endearing, yet sometimes irritating characters. Martin is the building's superintendent who is struggling with the challenges of his work and is using meditation and mindfulness to cope. Then we meet his twenty-something daughter Ruby, who has just moved back home after college and is trying to figure out her next step. Debra is Martin's wife and Ruby's mother, and she's a Librarian who is off to a conference and not present during most of the novel. Then there's a bunch of side characters, including Caroline, John, and Andy - oh wait until you meet Andy.

The writing is detailed and descriptive - after all, the whole 300 pages are set over one day. This is a character-driven book, and the author takes a dioramic approach to storytelling. There are parts of this book that truly shocked me with their absurdity, yet I will remember this book with some fondness.

I'd recommend this book to literary readers who appreciate character-driven novels that are unique and 'day in the life'-esque.
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The events of this debut novel take place in the course of one day, set in a New York luxury apartment building. Told in the voices of Martin, the buildings super, and his unemployed daughter Ruby, a recent college grad who has moved back home buried under the weight of her student loans. A party is being thrown that evening by Caroline, Ruby’s wealthy childhood friend who lives in the Penthouse. By the end of the day, everyone’s life will be dramatically changed. Conell examines the struggles of class and privilege; the haves and have- nots, living and struggling in close proximity to one another.
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I was drawn to this book by its synopsis - The Party Upstairs takes place in one day, largely in one Upper West Side apartment building. It centers on Ruby, who's recently moved back in with her parents, and her father (the super). 

I found it uneven, but in a way that will have me watching whatever this author writes next. While at times I felt like the book dragged or got a bit absurd, at other times I highlighted entire paragraphs for their insight on privilege, expectations, and the stories we tell. Some of Conell's sentences cut in an altogether delicious way. 

Recommended for those who like Alternate Side (Anna Quindlen) and/or complex father-daughter relationships. Please be advised the plot is sort of a bummer (this is more class analysis than an uplifting pull-youself-up-by-the-bookstraps tale...)
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Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC digital copy. I have not been compensated for my opinion and this is an honest review.

Unfortunately, I was unable to finish reading this ARC digital copy before needing to switch to other books that were being archived. The book is no longer on my Goodreads "want to read" list, but I will update my review to reflect an updated opinion if I decide to finish at a later date.
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Some tension here between a deft, shrewd writer and the often pedestrian nature of the content. Class, privilege, allotted roles in the social pecking order - this content is presented in an often cartoonish fashion, hitting the reader over the head with its message. And then there’s the one damn thing after another nature of events. If a bad thing can happen, then it often, predictably, will. So, smart writer, somewhat thudding first offering. But worth watching.
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Thank you Penguin Press and Netgalley for the e-copy and hardcover copy.

a 2.5/3 star read for me.
The Party Upstairs definitely had an interesting concept. The daughter of a super in a NYC building moves back into her parents, back in the basement, after a breakup and after graduating college. This story unfolds in a day, we follow Ruby and her father Martin, their relationship and unfolding of events as Ruby goes to her childhood friend’s apartment on the top floor of the building. A lot of interesting topics are talked about in this book. Class, privilege, family, life expectations, people’s expectations. 

What I liked about this book was the way such topics were created into a story. Overall, though the writing felt a bit all over the place? Ruby’s and Martin’s minds are all over the place. They’re both being haunted by Lily. Lily, this mysterious feeling throughout the book made it just a bit more interesting. Martin’s story and the way he thoughts stressed me out. Didn’t really like Ruby’s and Coraline’s friendship, it felt toxic at some points, which was also all over the place. I like the setting, the apartment, such an important part of the story. I also really enjoy reading books set in NYC. I do enjoy reading books about struggling characters, with problems, and seeing their growth throughout the story. 

Just a flat read for me, one that others might enjoy more than I did.

TW: sexual assault
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This book is great! Would definitely recommend. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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I am not even going to lie, this book is typical NYC, I loved that, and it gives us a look of things that can really happen in a gentrified neighborhood, and plus being a super in NYC is literally the wildest job ever, I always commend that profession, it’s not easy at all. 

Thanks, Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
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The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell is unfortunately one of the few books that I typically DNF in a year.  Do you ever pick up a novel and know instantly that it is not right for you?  The Party Upstairs was regrettably one of those books for me; although it took me awhile to admit it and finally quit the book at 70%. 

I was initially drawn to The Party Upstairs because it was marketed as a 24 hour story.  I love books that take place in a single day, as the plot is generally focused and engaging.  That is not the case here, and I even feel as if the 24 hour premise could be misleading.  Much of the story involves flashbacks, and while a character may have several nostalgic musings within a day, the story being told is often not happening in the present.  

Furthermore, this novel is tedious and circuitous, jogging off on various storylines without ever really going anywhere.  It doesn't help that the story being told is incredibly boring and did not spark my attention or imagination in the slightest.  

The Party Upstairs feels like one of those books you read in a college lit course - books that often want to be more important than they are, but are revered by readers in certain circles.  I imagine that The Party Upstairs will only greatly resonant with a select few, and unfortunately, I am not one of them.  

Thank you to NetGalley and The Penguin Press for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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The Party Upstairs explores the differences between lower and upper class, specifically in New York City. The upstairs versus downstairs approach.The book follows Ruby and her father Martin, who serves the tenants in the apartment building that they live in. Ruby's best friend Caroline lives upstairs in the penthouse while Ruby and her father live downstairs. 

Exploring a father-daughter relationship as well as socioeconomic status and privilege could have made for an interesting story. The gap between the working class and the upper class was fairly large as they are quite disconnected from each other. I wasn't a fan of Martin at all and Ruby has a bit of growth but overall, I just didn’t care much for these characters. I thought we would be given more insight on privilege and relationships but I was just extremely bored unfortunately. 

My other problem is that the chapters were too long but this is just a personal preference of mine. Not only that but it just made the rambling even more extraneous than it already is. This wasn’t for me but if it seems like something that might interest I would say to go for it as there are a ton of raving review.

Thank you to Netgalley and to the publisher for sending me an arc of this book!
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Conell's debut is an easily-digestible look into the way everyday people interact with the wealthy. Set over the course of one day in Manhattan where "rich" takes on a new meaning, Conell explores the resentment, tensions, and decisions made when outsiders get close to the rich.
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I selected this book because I had attended college with a gal, who like Ruby, was the daughter of a super in a NYC building. 
Ruby was the super’s daughter and lived with her parents in an apartment in the building basement. Her best friend, Caroline, was the child of wealthy residents in the building.  The girls remained friends throughout the college years. Caroline treated Ruby as a worthy subject and tried her best to control her less affluent friend. Ruby was influenced by Caroline when she decided to attend a prestigious liberal arts college and study art. Unlike  Caroline, Ruby had to take out loans to attend the school. However Ruby had difficulty finding a job in the field she wanted. After a disastrous breakup and the loss of a low paying job, Ruby ended up living with her parents. 
Martin, her Dad, was experiencing a mid life crisis and having difficulty keeping his job as the super. He was disappointed in Ruby and embarrassed that she had to return to the family apartment to live. Ruby’s mom, Debra, played a lesser role in the story.
This debut novel, takes place in the span of one eventful day. It begins with a disagreement between Ruby and Martin after he tries to engage her in a meditation session. The culmination is a party thrown by Caroline in her father’s penthouse apartment and the disastrous events that followed.
The book is told from the points of view of both Ruby and her father, Martin. Both are experiencing crises in their lives and that creates tension in the book . It explores class structure in a city like N.Y. where wealthy people interact with lower class service people on a regular basis.
This ARC was provided by Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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You know how they say if you have a negative run in with one person in a day, they’re the jerk, but if you have a run in with two people in a day, you’re the jerk? 

I can’t stop thinking about the above statement as it relates to protagonist Martin, the whiny, put upon super in an affluent building in Manhattan whose possibly legitimate gripes about his work and the tenants he serves are all devalued by his curmudgeonly, self-pitying tendency to view people merely asking him to do his job as some sort of personal affront 

Nobody likes a whiner (including other whiners), which is perhaps why he and his daughter have a somewhat contentious relationship. Ruby has just moved back home after failing to achieve financial stability after college, and though she has more personality and is notably less obnoxious than her father, she still drips with an irritating combination of sanctimony and lazy helplessness. 

The author was clearly trying to create a modern upstairs/downstairs vibe, Ruby and her father contrasting with the tenants of the building, but it’s Martin and Ruby who come off looking more like snobs. If the tenants display the flippant obliviousness and entitlement of the rich, Ruby and Martin far outpace then in their demonstration of the bitterness and hostility of the poor.

This is, at its heart, a character study. Which is kind of a rough go when the principal characters are whiny, lazy, and self-pitying. Ruby, at least, has a semi-redemptive story arc. In the end, the reader begins to root for her and perhaps even like her. Martin, sadly, never gets there. He accepts rather than evolves, and it’s one more deeply unappealing thing about him. 

The pacing of the book is good, and it has some memorably humorous minor plot points, but it’s tough to get past the deeply unlikable and unsympathetic protagonist.
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An excellent debut. At first glance, it seems to be a classic upstairs/downstairs novel, but it's much more. Conell is able to capture so much. From being a young woman in Manhattan to Ruby as a character, Conell does is able to explore everything so well and eloquently. I was engrossed in the novel the whole time. Even though it takes place throughout one day, readers learn so much abut the characters and the whole novel is fleshed out. The book hit especially hard for me because I, like Ruby, am a young woman trying to start a career in the city. All the parts about Ruby interviewing for a position at the Met had be laughing while also crying out of fear and anxiety for my future. But then again, that's the making of a real character. Conell used Ruby to being diorama's into the text. This was a great move: not only did I learn more about that art form, but it was an excellent metaphor that elevated and expanded the plot very well. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone (but students especially, lol) and I will eagerly anticipate anything that Lee Conell writes next.
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The Party Upstairs takes place in a single day, and alternates perspectives between Martin, an Upper West Side building super, and his 24-year old daughter, Ruby. Ruby has recently lost her job and her boyfriend and has had to move back into her parent’s basement apartment. Tension is running high between the two as they repeatedly try and fail to really connect. I also liked that Conell explored the differences between classes within the building, especially with Martin who always had to worry about keeping the wealthy tenants. But, other parts of Martin became annoying: his obsessions with meditation and birds and his frequent “advice” from a favorite deceased resident. Ruby, too I both liked and didn’t. I sympathized with her sort of “stuck” position, but she also did some really crazy things! Overall, The Party Upstairs was just okay for me.

Note:I received a copy of this book from Penguin Press (in print and via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts
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I had such an amazing reading experience with this one. The writing was incredible, the descriptions were sharp and vivid, the characters were all interesting & distinct, and the dynamics between them were even more fascinating. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

The whole book happens in the course of a day (excluding flashbacks) as Ruby (a 24-year old dealing with a recent breakup) moves back in with her parents who live in the basement of a beautiful Upper West Side apartment that her dad upkeeps as the super. Ruby is trying to find a stable job that she’s passionate about, and her dream is to work with dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. She’s also navigating her relationship with her childhood friend, Caroline, who grew up in the penthouse of the building. Her dad, Martin, is a large part of this story as the third-close narration bounces back between both of them throughout. I loved the NYC-isms and the relatable family dynamics & quirkiness of these characters. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Anyway, this type of novel is my favorite—with not a lot and so much happening at the same time. The writing had me engrossed from start to finish. The pacing is perfect, too, and it reads like a thriller. It’s equally dark as it is funny, while ultimately being an honest depiction of class, privilege, friendship, family, being gaslighted 🙄, and finding your way in the world. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

“Maybe between parents and their grown children this was normal—this little shared universe of unsaid things, largely made up of what you didn’t want the talk about.”
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This book tended to be a bit of a mess to read--the two stories between the daughter and her "super" father just seemed to drag on and on.  I think I know that the author wanted to show the difference between living in the basement and living in the penthouse, but there was so much bizarre behavior that the point of the story tended to get lost and I just wanted the plot to move ahead and get to the end of the story.  Even the end was disappointing with really nothing changed, which may be the author's point, but I wanted more from this book.
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A day in the life of an Upper West Side superintendent of an upper class building and his daughter, who returns home after living on her own for the first time. Told in alternating chapters by father and daughter (who is lifelong friends with the daughter of the tenant in the penthouse), it is also a statement on class and privilege in New York City.
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“I am interested in the way dioramas generate stories while sidestepping traditional narrative forms of rising action and conflict. Instead, the diorama form immobilizes and captures a moment we recognize as part of a story larger than the form itself.”

The Party Upstairs has some fun meta elements going for it. The cover, structure, and plot elements all encompass this idea of the diorama. A cross-section of New York City life with its clearly defined layers. We definitely got to see more the just one snapshot in time’s worth of character development, but I don’t think the amount of flashback and memory here took away from that sense of “this is all happening over the course of one day.” The pacing felt clean and effective to me. I appreciated how tongue in cheek the humor was here as the author mocked these self-important students of the liberal arts and the middle aged superintendent’s interest in self-discovery through meditation. I found it humorous how the author frequently remarks on the super’s relationship with the tenants, how neither party necessarily viewed each other as fully human, that they just deal in this seemingly endless “cycle of favors”, tenants demanding repairs or coming up with sneaky ways to impose on the building’s keeper. Lee Conell’s characters are walking paradoxes, and this is a large reason for me having enjoyed this book. The narrative really created that fly-on-the-wall sensation, which provided me as the reader with a sufficiently voyeuristic pleasure (not in a sexual way though).
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