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.
“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).
I love books set in New York City, and this one was no exception. It’s a little different than many I’ve read. This focus on the super of an Upper West Side co-op and his “underemployed” 24-year-old daughter who has a art history degree, no hope of a job and no way to pay her student loans. What is most amazing to me is that this story takes place in one day. The depth of the writing is superb.
First, a thank you to NetGalley for sharing the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I admit that I that I probably waited to long to write this review post read, but I'm honest not sure if I wouldn't been any more memorable or that I could provided richer commentary. But, first, let me say this, there really is nothing wrong with this book - I am simply not the right audience member. It's an intriguing premise - one that I thought I would find more intriguing, but I just didn't. Nor did I find the characters particularly interesting or empathetic, even the ones I was evidently supposed to. Perhaps it's the 'slice of life' I just don't care to dive into - I honestly don't know - and that boars head scene (or whatever it was) was just way to Lord of the Flies for me, enough so that the experience just went down from there. However, like I said, it's an intriguing presence and it's pretty well written, plus, it has a really great cover!
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This assured debut unfolds over a single day in a wealthy NYC apartment building. It focuses on the internal lives of a family of three who occupy the basement - the super, his librarian wife and their boomerang twenty-something daughter, back home after losing her job, boyfriend and apartment. This is a smart and original novel. It is thoughtfully paced and well-written. Conell excels at creating authentic voices and believable characters. It's a slow burn that moves at a pace a little slower than the description might suggest. The content here is supremely relevant-- how does a 99%er come to terms with growing up in a 1% environment? There are revelations, revolutions and it ends on a note of small but significant hope.
A modern take on the whole upstairs downstairs storyline. Well written with interesting characters that ut,I ate,y annoyed me so much I was pleased to be done reading the book.
** I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review of this book.
Two young women now in their 20s have been friends since they were girls. Ruby is the daughter of the building superintendent Martin, and Caroline is the daughter of the penthouse’s owner Kenneth. Both are developing artists but Caroline’s career has taken off with her father’s rich clients buying her pieces, while Ruby is saddled with college debt and has moved back home. Despite that, there is still a deep affection between the girls.
Martin worries about Ruby’s lack of a career focus and her crushing debt. One of the elderly tenants Lily reminds him, “Cut the self-pity crap and just be proud of your daughter. It’s not Ruby’s fault the fever dream of free-market capitalism has corrupted the realm of high education.” To Ruby she says, “The thing to know about you and Caroline is you’re not in the same class.” Lily is a voice of reason throughout, even after her death. She warns Ruby, “What I’m saying is nobody wants to voice this. Ruby. Do you recognize that nobody wants to voice this? The middle class in the city is on the verge of vanishing.”
When there are several characters I ask myself, “whose story is it?” In the beginning I would have said Ruby but the more I read, the more I felt this is Martin’s story too. He is trying to please all the tenants in a building where he was been for sup for 20 years. He’s good at his maintainable responsibilities but it’s the constant barrage of tenant’s needs, 24/7 - he’s never off duty. He becomes a chronic worrier that he will mess up and they’re lose the basement apartment that comes with the job. To manage the stress he takes up meditation, even meditating with one of the rich tenants.
Martin is painfully conscientious and endears himself to me in his love of animals and especially birds. I was frustrated by him as a father and then I realized how very alone he was. He had spent twenty years trying to make sure they didn’t lose their home and finally through circumstances he realizes he has choices other than that basement apartment. Both Martin and Ruby do some growing up. Martin’s new yoga instructor told the class, “Carpe diem. Seize the day.” Martin hopes he will better learn what to seize, what to let drop.” Ruby is “looking only to open the doors inside her own self, to see what she might be hiding, what she might have to state or make.” Overall, a thoughtful and satisfying read.
The Party Upstairs is a semi-interesting novel about one day in the life of an unsettled young woman and her building superintendent father on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This navel-gazing book does touch on interesting themes of class and purpose but ultimately fails in making this reader feel much at all.
Addendum -- a wrote the paragraph above a few days ago but have realized that I have found myself thinking about the book as I go about my days. Maybe there is more to it than I first thought.
There might have been a time in which I would have found this constant circular talk to be charming or clever. Right now, I found it tiresome. There seemed to be very little to grasp on to and really become invested in.
If you are looking for a fresh, modern take on an upstairs/downstairs type of story, this is the book for you.
Martin, the meditation loving super in a NYC apartment, lives in the basement with his librarian wife and college-debt ridden underemployed daughter. He struggles with the class differentiation and bias he experiences with the privileged tenants in his building...trying to remain human and remain employed. He has a challenging relationship with his daughter, Ruby, who is lifelong friends with Caroline from the penthouse. Ruby is also faces class discrimination as well as the fakeness of friends who profess to be egalitarian in their outward jobs but also inhumane in their interactions with Ruby, treating her like a special project. The book is unexpectedly moving and well written, and easily draws upon current issues of privilege and class. There are many parallel relationships and symbolism that enrich the reading. I especially appreciated the symbolism of the birds, particularly the pigeons throughout the story. Martin has a connection with the pigeons, someone notes that they are like therapy dogs for him to which he counters "they are not like dogs at all, they can fly". and also when tenants need him to knock down nests, he feels the "invisible hand of capitalism" forcing him to knock them down. This would be a terrific book for a discussion group as many times I wanted to pause and reflect on the writing. Definitely worth the read.
I did not finish this book. Just could not get into it. It was rambling and too much about class difference.
I tried to like this book, tried to find something in it to justify the praise it has garnered, but in the end, I just did not connect with the story, and all of the characters were unlikable, self-centered, and in some cases so annoyingly navel-gazing it was almost painful to read. Nothing much happens in this book, and there are too many pages of what feel like asides, which go nowhere, and do nothing to illuminate or move the plot forward in a constructive way.
This is a sharp, witty novel about gentrification and class and gender. A story about the wealth gap in NYC--and about how much our circumstances affect our character--that manages to be suspenseful and cutting. So well crafted it's hard to believe this is a debut.
<i>Parasite</i> in a New York apartment building! Conell gives us a class analysis told through the lens of Martin, the super who lives in the basement, and his daughter Ruby, who has moved back in with her parents. The book takes place over the course of a single day in which Martin is haunted by the voice of a dead, anti-capitalist tenant, and Ruby becomes aware of the weight of the disparity between herself and her longtime friend Caroline, who lives in the penthouse. Ruby's actions throughout the day mostly made me cringe but they were also entertaining, especially in retrospect, and I loved Martin and his quest for successful meditation and lack of delusion about his place in the scheme of the apartment building.
I’m sorry. I really did not like this. The characters are meh. It got to be too tedious and 3/4 in I quit. I really need to at least like characters in a story, I don’t have to love them. But I didn’t care for Ruby or her dad and definitely not any one else. Like I said, it was tedious and I didn’t care to finish it. Maybe blame it on my quarantine brain but I need more from a book than this.
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ruby's dad is the super in an upscale condominium building in New York. Ruby's closest friend, Caroline, is a resident of the building. The girls spend all of their time together as children, but cracks begin to appear in their relationship due to money, privilege, and the way that they treat each other.
Basement apartment vs Penthouse, Upper class vs Lower class, Father vs Daughter. The Party Upstairs is a great slice of life, with well-written characters and an engaging atmosphere.
The contemporary story line takes place in a single day within a residential building in New York City for the most part, with supporting stories from the past and excursions in the immediate neighborhood. Sort of a socio-economical survey of privilege as well as relationships. Main characters are the super and his daughter with minor charters being the wife and tenants (usually referred to by their apartment numbers).
This book is deceptively simple: it's a lot more nuanced, and a lot more moving, than I expected. I loved the slow buildup to its inevitable ending - the tension really does increase with each chapter, there's no way else this book could end. A thoughtful exploration of class, ownership, and privilege, and maybe also of just how hard it is to be truly understood by the people around you.
- Nirica from Team Champaca
Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5
A single day in an Upper West Side apartment building in New York City: we tag along inside the heads of a father and daughter. Martin is the long time super for the building, snagging the free apartment in the basement as part of his salary. Martin has internalized the building — the tenants, the systems, the various immigrants that continually circle around building infrastructure to keep it all running. Ruby is his daughter — recent Art History graduate plunged into a jobless recession and back living in the basement with her parents. As they churn through a disastrous day amidst plenty of existential angst, they are prodded along by two wildly different characters: Caroline lives in the building’s penthouse and has been Ruby’s friend since childhood; Lily is the now deceased, rent-control, neighbor who serves as a kind of Marxist Greek chorus narrating Martin’s every movement in his head. These narrations are priceless.
As a novel, I very much enjoyed this book about relationships across socioeconomic divides. Clear, insightful writing that absolutely captures the “voice” of the two main characters. Plenty of morally ambiguous action where judgement is left to the reader. On the other hand, the “wealthy” tenants were not painted with much sympathy. While we care about Martin and Ruby and understand (though possibly disagree with) their actions, the tenants are all depicted as hypocrites, rationalizers, or virtue signalers (except for Lily — the last representative of pre-gentrification!). In this book, there is no way for these wealthy tenants to behave that would earn them any appreciation from the “oppressed.” There is no way for them to be sympathetic or “good.” As a description of the way Martin and Ruby saw those people, I can’t argue with the narrative, but I don’t believe all New Yorkers are easily divided into just two categories: rich or exploited.
However — a fun read with plenty of good quotes (see below) and some great descriptions of specific aspects of individual jobs and the way a building works! I’m very interested in reading her previously published “Subcortical” which sounds like it might be right up my alley.
Some fun quotes:
“ ‘It’s not Ruby’s fault the fever dream of free-market capitalism has corrupted the realm of higher education.’ Lily had always tried to cheer Martin up by blaming his parental angst on the free market.”
“He’s got the Manifest Destiny glaze in his eyes.”
“The culture of grievances in this country is an unseemly stain, spreading fast! Wherever you come from, rich or poor, there is suffering. The problem is the way we quantify that suffering, revel in suffering — tired of those pesky self-pity streaks? Try growing a pair.”
“… in a real utopia the super wouldn’t exploit the voice of the dead to think the thoughts that he can’t let himself think on his own because his own voice is too quiet, too soft, too accommodating, he’s so good-natured they all think, not knowing that he’s only that way because if he acted out, if he shouted at Caroline over her little sporks, it would only confirm what they hoped was most true in him, he was a beast, he deserved his position in this world, he deserved to be exploited, I mean, that temper they would say, no wonder he’s …”
“The collar of the shirt under his gray cardigan was half down, half up, which gave him the sartorial look of a friendly dog unable to coordinate the orientation of its ears.”
“The city just operated this way sometimes; you could have a day fueled by coincidences that lined up wearing the mask of fate, trying to fool you into thinking there was some secret order to your life.”