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Better Homes and Husbands

Better Homes and Husbands

4.0 1
by Valerie Ann Leff

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980 Park, a fictional, pre-war co-op on the Northwest corner of Park Avenue and 83rd Street, houses the rich and famous-Sidney Sapphire, the blonde anchorwoman of ABC News, Angela Somoza, the gorgeous Nicaraguan jet-setter, Bob Horowitz, the former chairman of the United Jewish Appeals, and the usual collection of banking and industrial CEO's, Wall Street magnates,


980 Park, a fictional, pre-war co-op on the Northwest corner of Park Avenue and 83rd Street, houses the rich and famous-Sidney Sapphire, the blonde anchorwoman of ABC News, Angela Somoza, the gorgeous Nicaraguan jet-setter, Bob Horowitz, the former chairman of the United Jewish Appeals, and the usual collection of banking and industrial CEO's, Wall Street magnates, and white-haired philanthropists. The Brooklyn-born doorman, Vinnie Ferretti, joins the ranks when he becomes a major fashion designer.

The building's board, rich as clotted cream, sips gin in the afternoons and devises ways to keep out anyone deemed "inappropriate." Stifled resentments come to a head when the French baroness in the penthouse dies, and two Jewish families in the building suspect the co-op board of more discrimination with regard to prospective buyers than might be legal.

Better Homes and Husbands is a stylish, richly woven novel about class and caste feuds, played out with ferocity and etiquette in a posh New York apartment building during the tumultuous period of social change between 1970 and 2000.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Leff serves up a slice of the good life in this group portrait novel, following the lives of the residents of an exclusive prewar co-op building in New York City from the 1970s to the present day. The denizens of 980 Park Avenue have little in common except for their tony address on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Genial attorney Dick Sapphire, the building's first Jewish resident, struggles through the suicide of his first wife and the career ambitions of a second. Mrs. Coddington, an archetypal WASP, presides over the building's co-op board and spends her boorish husband's ample wealth. Angela Somoza, granddaughter of a Latin dictator, defies her heritage by smuggling in illegal Guatemalan freedom fighters and denouncing the anti-Semitism of the co-op board. Battles of race, religion and ideology give an edge to this cozy chronicle. Leff provides plenty of glittering details, but she doesn't neglect the lives of the building's service people, like elevator operator Vinnie, who becomes a fashion designer. Her protagonists are types, but Leff is skilled at teasing out their small idiosyncrasies. Sedate and slightly old-fashioned, this is a warmhearted, generously imagined New York story. Agent, Bill Contardi. (June) Forecast: Local sales should be strongest for this novel, an interesting counterpart to Cheryl Mendelson's 2003 novel Morningside Heights, which was set on the Upper West Side and was (predictably) more academic in tone. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut about the interconnected lives of the residents and employees of a Park Avenue apartment house from the early 1970s to the turn of the new century. Like most of those big limestone piles that sprang up over the New York Central tracks during the Roaring Twenties, 980 Park is a lot less sedate that it looks from the outside, inhabited as it is by a nervous agglomeration of rich strivers continually looking over their shoulders to see who's gaining on them. Some, like the Jewish lawyer Richard Sapphire, are arrivistes who have to prove themselves at every step of the game; others, like the Countess d'Alencon are set within the social order as solidly as the North Star. The ones who suffer most seem to be the children (rebellious Sandra Payne has a child by her father's Jamaican chauffeur) or the wives (bored Shelley Sapphire waits until her 50s to start a career in journalism)-but no one at all seems terribly happy. Some of the class strife is familiar: the building narrowly averts a discrimination suit by admitting more Jewish tenants in the 1980s, for example, and one of the doormen fired in the famous 1976 strike goes on to become a successful fashion designer with a major chip on his shoulder-but there are some interesting and unexpected twists. The granddaughter of a Nicaraguan dictator who begins her New York life as a Latin American Brooke Astor forsakes the parties and the benefits and ends up as a kind of Sandinistan Harriet Tubman, smuggling political prisoners into the States. The Jamaican grandson becomes his racist grandpa's heir. And a middle-aged Social X-Ray, facing the imminent death of her elderly mother, is miraculously transformed into a human being. Very nicelydone: Leff writes with an insider's eye and a light, understated style perfectly suited to her subjects. Agent: Bill Contardi/Brandt & Hochman
From the Publisher

“A novel of manners written with skill and heart and powers of observation as sharp as a boning knife--my idea of heaven.” —Beth Gutcheon, author of More Than You Know

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the building is limestone and red brick, a heavy front door of black iron tracery, a gray canvas canopy with its white-lettered address, Nine-eighty Park Avenue. Here, wealthy New Yorkers occupy grand apartments with their children, cooks and maids. A super lives in the basement, managing doormen, handymen. Throughout the year, drivers in long shiny cars wait by the curb. Nannies push strollers to Central Park, and delivery boys bring groceries around to the service entrance. There are dinner parties, guests, cocktails. Greetings exchanged in the lobby, gossip whispered in the back elevator.

Over time, the building changes. Children grow up, go off to prep school, college. Or they flee, disappointing their parents. Residents die or sometimes move away. An apartment is vacant, and new families up the ante on multimillion-dollar bids and apply to the co-op board. Many are turned down. Families in the building interact--or they don't. Over time, they watch one another, perceive and misperceive, play out feuds of class and caste with ferocious etiquette. There are quiet revolutions, and the inhabitants of the building adjust--some gladly, some with dismay.

In 980 Park Avenue, during the last three decades of the twentieth century, stories have layered the walls of high-ceilinged apartments like coats of plaster, wallpaper, paint; voices linger like the scent of spices in the kitchen cabinets. A suicide, a strike, a seventeen-year-old girl pregnant. A scandalous arrest in the late 1980s. A lawsuit barely averted by the co-op board. No one knows the whole history, and the truth is understood in pieces by one resident or another, by a daughter, a friend of the family, by a doorman. The truth is told in stories, in voices tinged with opinion, envy, regret. The truth is kept in the building, never completely revealed.

The building is brick, mortar, limestone, lath and plaster. Plumbing and wires run through it. The building is also stories and lives, concurrent and overlapping. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the building, 980 Park Avenue, holds these stories within its walls, silent, like a book....

BETTER HOMES AND HUSBANDS Copyright © 2004 by Valerie Ann Leff.

Meet the Author

Valerie Ann Leff is co-director of the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Portions of this novel have appeared in The Antioch Review, Chelsea, Lilith, and the South Carolina Review.

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Better Homes and Husbands 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Set in a luxurious Manhattan apartment building, this book spans thirty years and divulges the secrets of various residents. But this story is more of an ensemble piece, so the stories don¿t necessarily interconnect. In my opinion the author did have an ideal opportunity to achieve a sense of cohesion by utilizing the character of Vinnie. In the beginning of the book he is working as a doorman in the building and eventually makes his way into a position of prominence by becoming a major fashion designer. The author could have taken it a step further by having Vinnie eventually purchasing the building¿s penthouse, thus making the story a rags to riches tale, or the little guy overcoming obstacles. Instead the characters and the story remain in a state of flux. However, I did thoroughly believe that the author had an insight to the often insulated world of Manhattan¿s Upper East Side and manages to create credible characters and plausible stories.