The City Is a Rising Tide

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In New York City, Justine Laxness works as a money manager at an international nonprofit company, Aquinas. Her obsession with her boss, Peter, spurs her to embezzle funds and lend the money to James Nutter, a screenwriter and old flame who has resurfaced in Justine's life after fifteen years. But every action she takes will have unforeseen ramifications, creating a tidal wave of betrayal and destruction, from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze to the refined vistas of Central Park. Lyrical and suspenseful by ...
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In New York City, Justine Laxness works as a money manager at an international nonprofit company, Aquinas. Her obsession with her boss, Peter, spurs her to embezzle funds and lend the money to James Nutter, a screenwriter and old flame who has resurfaced in Justine's life after fifteen years. But every action she takes will have unforeseen ramifications, creating a tidal wave of betrayal and destruction, from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze to the refined vistas of Central Park. Lyrical and suspenseful by turns, The City Is a Rising Tide is an enchanting work of luminous prose and uncommon imagination.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Early 1990s New York and 1970s Beijing intersect in the memory of Justine, who narrates her own downward spiral into an obsessive, unrequited love. Justine and co-worker Peter are, respectively, the sole staff and founder of a quasi-legitimate nonprofit quixotically attempting to build a holistic center in boom-time China. The two first met when Justine was just a child in Mao's Beijing, and Peter was already tossing about in shadowy financial deals; she fell for him then. A self-righteous ex-boyfriend, a chorus of women friends and a concerned family all tell Justine that waiting for Peter to reciprocate her love is a masochist's dream; a late revelation concerning Peter's unavailability is unsustained by the wispy plot. Like Justine, this debut lacks definition, but that becomes one of its strengths: a portrait of a perceptive yet lost woman who traces her own self-destruction with the same patient helplessness with which she loves. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut novel involves the privileged life of Justin Laxness, a woman in her late thirties who lives in New York and runs a nonprofit company called Aquinas Foundation that promotes Eastern medicine to wealthy people in the entertainment industry. Justin is in love with Peter, the company's founder, who is 20 years her senior and treats her like a younger sister. They have known each other since Justin was a child living with her parents in China under Mao. During this time, Peter fell in love with Justin's nanny, Su Chen, who, we later discover, was one of many women Mao slept with and whose life ultimately ends tragically. Peter's life is dedicated to building a New Age health complex in China in memory of Su Chen from the foundation's investments, and Justin must finally choose whether the end justifies fraudulent means to keep their foundation viable. The author's descriptions of New York and Chinese culture are colorful, but her characters exhibit little passion or complexity, resulting in a lackluster story. An optional purchase.-David A. Berona, Plymouth State Univ., NH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Personal issues underlie and complicate the ideals of an international relief organization in Lee's ruminative, thoughtful first novel. Narrator Justine Laxness is herself a citizen of two cultures: China, where she spent much of her childhood as the daughter of wealthy missionary parents, and New York City, where she works (in 1993) for the nonprofit Aquinas Foundation, dedicated "to promot[ing] the intersection of Eastern and Western medicine" throughout the world. Aquinas's plans are threatened by a Chinese government plan to build a "dam extension" on the Yangtze River, which would flood land reserved for a state-of-the-art "healing center." And Justine's own good will becomes increasingly enervated, by conflicts with disapproving bureaucrats, publicity-hungry celebrity donors, the IRS-and her professional relationship with, and helpless love for, her boss Peter (whose own past in China intersects glancingly with her own). Lee conjures affecting images of city vistas and (especially) the embracing presence of the Hudson River, observing such scenes with a deft balance of clinical precision and romantic hyperbole (e.g., demolished "houses come down, crouching at first like injured, long-legged animals, then fully kneeling, bowing their shoulders to the earth"). She also has a knack for introducing new characters at effectively spaced intervals-hatching one nice sequence in which Justine travels to Saskatchewan, where an earth-friendly original script written by her former college friend James is being filmed. But the novel is filled with promising scraps of conflict that are not fully developed-a partial exception being the fiscal brouhaha generated by Justine's impulsive (andnot-quite-credible) decision to invest a chunk of Aquinas's dwindling capital in the aforementioned film. But we don't learn enough about her to be sure of this. Only the indirectly characterized Peter, an enigmatic combination of visionary idealist and introverted egoist, seems fully real. Too many fragments, not enough narrative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743276665
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 7/17/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee has been published in The Atlantic and Zoetrope. She teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
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Read an Excerpt


New York City, 1993

Down at the Fulton Fish Market, a person could still buy the illegal eels pulled from the Hudson, eels that had evolved, in the last one or two hundred generations, an enzyme that resists the PCBs and that is, according to people who have a bent for this sort of thing, very tasty, laces the meat with a flavor that is, as Peter described it, woody and vibrant. It's the eel's response to the modern world, to General Electric in particular, and Peter believed he could taste this. Though Peter believed he could taste anything in an animal: age, history, strength, fear. You could say he was an antivegetarian -- loved bodies, claws, forms, hooves, ribs, though I guess his favorite food was still the litchi nuts he picked up every morning on his way in to work, as he passed through Chinatown. He lived in Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn, took the F to East Broadway, and then walked up through Chinatown to our office on Houston Street.

Peter and I ran a nonprofit called the Aquinas Foundation. Actually, Peter was its founder, and I worked for him. Officially the mission of Aquinas was to promote the intersection of Eastern and Western medicine. Unofficially, Aquinas was the practical arm of Peter's fancy. Our most visible project and our most troubling was something Peter called a "healing center," which was to be built on the edge of the Yangtze River in China. It helped to think of it as not quite hospital, not quite spa, not quite temple, but a mixture of all three, some organization of materials devoted to fulfilling a person's mental and physical potential. At first I had thought the project would be a very difficult sell, donor-wise, but instead it had appealed deeply to that strange human bird, the celebrity, many of whom felt such a place was utterly legitimate, since they themselves required close, intricate types of attention -- acupuncture, biofeedback, qi gong -- but were not actually sick in any way. Money was rolling in from them.

This morning I was again battling over the phone with a man we called the Gripper. Peter and I stood side by side looking out at Soho, both of us with headsets on. The Gripper was a Hollywood agent and lawyer, and he was very stealthy and demanding. Once at a party I had seen him eat an olive and then split the pit with his teeth, sucking out some private and nasty goodness within.

Today he was insisting that his client's name be on the center, on a plaque. "I want his name on the hospital itself," the Gripper said.

"It's not a hospital," I said. "It's a healing center."

"Whatever it is. I don't care. He needs more recognition."

"That's what he needs?" I said, trying to emphasize the word need in order to suggest how ironic it was in this context. And anyway, this plaque was going to be on a building that was nearly toppling into the Yangtze River, not exactly a high-traffic area.

"Listen," the Gripper said. "Do you think my client needs for his career your little Noodle House?"

Peter smiled wanly at this. We'd been trying to dream up a name for our project, something that would pay allegiance to its mysteries and healing powers, something vaguely Asian, but from that moment on, almost against our will, we called it only the Noodle House.

And then I noticed Peter's hands were trembling a little, which meant the conversation had to end, since he needed insulin or juice or crackers, or maybe just rest. I could never guess exactly what he needed at any moment, given his diabetes. Somehow he calibrated and controlled it all -- the rise and fall of his sugar and insulin levels, the tiny waves in his blood -- by a very careful monitoring of sleep and food and emotions. Sometimes I thought this was what was responsible for his extraordinary appeal and attraction, the fact that he was keeping his body together by dint of his own will alone.

"We'll figure out something by tomorrow," I said.

"That's fine," he said. "We'll figure it out." He was preparing his little needle. "Good job, little one," he said to me.

So I'm thirty-one, and not really anybody's idea of little, but Peter first knew me twenty years ago, when I was ten and he was twenty-eight. Peter was then working for Richard Nixon, one of those young Democrats Nixon was said to love to hire and to keep under his thumb. Peter was doing some combination of diplomacy and intelligence, first in Cambodia and then in Beijing, during the time my family was also living in Beijing, my parents both Christian missionaries. Peter came to our little house on Fuling Street frequently, and eventually fell in love with my beloved amah, Su Chen. I recall him standing in our small kitchen, trying to help Su Chen cook, hovering over her as she scooped squid parts out of the soup or tied up the wings of little game hens. When she wasn't taking care of me, Su Chen was earning her Ph.D. at Beijing Normal, and like many students, she was a Red Guard. She was alive with optimism for Mao, and many afternoons we would make poster boards at our kitchen table for one struggle session or another -- Defeat the Running Dogs! Advance wave upon wave!

By 1973, after Mao's dream had curdled, almost all foreigners, including my family and Peter, had begun to flee the country. My family moved back to New York City, where my parents had long ago met and married, and Peter went away on a boat, toward I never knew where at the time, just into distance, where his people were. But Su Chen never left at all -- she went first to Zhongnanhai, and then to a labor camp near Mongolia, and then even farther north, which is death. Her soul, according to Mao and Marx before him, would have stayed woven to her body, as the brightest thread is still part of the fabric, still there, under her snowy grave west of Chang-Chun-Sa.

Copyright ©2006 by Rebecca Lee

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2014

    Beautifully written. I'm not sure what happened with the other r

    Beautifully written. I'm not sure what happened with the other reviews...go read the Amazon reviews. Rebecca Lee is SO talented.

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    Posted July 15, 2010

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