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The Good People of New York

The Good People of New York

4.6 10
by Thisbe Nissen

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When Roz Rosenzweig meets Edwin Anderson fumbling for keys on the stoop of a Manhattan walk-up, the last thing on her mind is falling for a polite Nebraskan–yet fall for him she does. So begins Thisbe Nissen’s breathtaking debut novel, a decidedly urban fairy tale that follows Roz and Edwin as they move from improbable courtship to marriage to the birth of


When Roz Rosenzweig meets Edwin Anderson fumbling for keys on the stoop of a Manhattan walk-up, the last thing on her mind is falling for a polite Nebraskan–yet fall for him she does. So begins Thisbe Nissen’s breathtaking debut novel, a decidedly urban fairy tale that follows Roz and Edwin as they move from improbable courtship to marriage to the birth of daughter Miranda–the locus of all Roz’s attention, anxiety, and often smothering affection.
As Miranda comes of age and begins to chafe against the intensity of her mother’s neurotic love, Roz must do her best to let those she cherishes move into the world without her. On crowded subways, in strange bedrooms, at Bar Mitzvahs, in brownstone basements and high school gymnasiums, Nissen’s unforgettable characters make their hilarious and wrenching way–and prove, indeed, that good things thrive in New York City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gracefully shifting her focus from short story to novel, Nissen weaves a charming tale with candid humor and sharp eye for detail. Astute characterizations and smart, snappy dialogue anchor an honest, funny portrayal of an inevitably heartbreaking but loving relationship.
This impressive debut novel tells the story of Jewish Manhattanite Roz Rosenzweig, her soon-to-be ex-husband Edwin and their precocious daughter Miranda. After Roz and Edwin divorce, Miranda and her headstrong mother must start afresh. As soon as Edwin is out of the picture, Roz begins the sometimes frustrating process of dating all over again: She first takes up with her daughter's orthodontist and then with an art history professor. Pretty soon, tensions arise between these two—now equally feisty—women. As they grow older and wiser, Miranda and Roz struggle to accept each other's changing lives, and to come to terms with the opportunities and drawbacks of modern life in the city. An interesting feature of Nissen's style is her knack for highlighting the ordinary details of everyday life. Pivotal moments, such as Miranda's first sexual encounter and her love affair with her high school English teacher, are not treated as earth-shattering developments. Nissen seems to be suggesting that it's life's more subtle experiences that truly enrich and affect a person.
—Mikita Brottman

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gracefully shifting her focus from short story to novel, Nissen John Simmons Short Fiction Award winner (Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night) weaves a charming tale with candid humor and a sharp eye for detail. Spirited and feisty Roz Rosenzweig and idealistic Nebraskan Edwin Anderson are as unlikely a couple as Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in The Way We Were, but somehow they end up tying the knot in 1970s New York City. They have a daughter, Miranda, but the marriage falls apart by the time she is in fifth grade. Newly single Roz vows to "be the fabulous mom-who's-more-like-a-friend-than-a-mom mom" but has a hard time squelching her irrepressible Jewish-mother instincts. Miranda, a precociously sexy near-teenager, sometimes plays along with Roz and sometimes rebels she is particularly peeved when her mother starts dating her orthodontist. At school, Miranda proves to be a budding drama queen, and as she gets older, becomes entangled in a series of prickly relationships. She could sometimes use her mom's help as she fumbles audaciously through adolescence, but is too proud to admit it. Roz, concurrently coming of age, tentatively attempts to become the focus of her own life. Nissen's descriptions of life in New York in the '70s and '80s are spot-on, and she clearly loves the novel's characters even the least likable are sympathetic and forgiven their foibles. Astute characterizations and smart, snappy dialogue anchor an honest, funny portrayal of an inevitably heartbreaking but loving relationship. Agent, Eric Simonoff. (May 30) Forecast: Equipped with a stellar set of blurbs (from Charles Baxter, Ann Beattie and Chris Offut, among others), a fetching subway-inspired jacket and an enticing title, this engaging debut work has a good chance of differentiating itself from countless similar New York coming-of-age novels. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“By turns funny and poignant. . . . Conjures serious emotions with grace, humor and gravity.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Funny and tender . . . Nissen is a perceptive writer with a wry sensibility.”–Chicago Tribune

“Light-hearted but not ‘lite,’ sweet-natured but never sentimental.” –TheBaltimore Sun

“A delightful novel . . . Aptly incorporates all of the sizzle, sorrow, and sporadic elation that a screwed-up family encounter. Nissen has spun an enticing story one wants to lap up whole.” –The Boston Phoenix

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
During the summer of 1970 Fran Kornblauser was renting a fifth-floor walk-up in a building whose buzzer system was partially and perennially incapacitated. When she threw a dinner party--which she did with characteristic frequency--her guests were able to buzz up to Fran's to announce their arrival, but Fran could not, as the system only worked in one direction, buzz back down to open the door. Thus, when the bell rang, Fran would hoist open one of the large front windows that overlooked East Eleventh Street, her jangling necklaces and voluminous breasts dangling over the window box and crushing the petunias planted there by the former tenant, wave hello to her prospective company stranded on the sidewalk, their necks craned upward like gawkers at a rooftop suicide, and toss a spare key out the window to the cement five flights below. "Turn it left and push hard," she'd holler. "It sticks like a motherfucker."

Roz Rosenzweig, who with her crazy ostrich legs and excruciatingly bright and irrevocably short Marimekko minidress looked remarkably like a strawberry lollypop, and Edwin Anderson, seersucker suit rumpled to Kennebunk perfection though he was himself not a Mainer but a Nebraskan, arrived on the stoop outside Fran Kornblauser's simultaneously and became acquainted on their knees as they scrounged in a bed of impatiens for the elusive key which had ricocheted off a third-floor balcony and landed in the little cordoned-off flower patch. A sign hanging from the chain requested that dogs kindly be curbed elsewhere; still, Roz was unsurprised when, instead of the key, her hand brushed what one hasty sniff proved to be a mostly but not completely hardened pile of dog shit.

"Dammit," she said.

"I've got it!" he exclaimed, procuring the key and holding it up so that it glinted in the light. He raised himself to standing and offered her a hand, but she declined and pushed herself to her own feet. His arm was still outstretched. "Edwin," he said, "Edwin Anderson," and he extended his hand further toward her.

"Roz Rosenzweig," she said, "but I think we should wait and shake on that later."

"Oh," he said. "OK."

She shrugged. "Whelp . . . up to Fran's?" she suggested, and when he gestured for her to go ahead she said,

"No no, after you," knowing full well all he wanted was a good view from behind for five flights. So then it was he who shrugged, and pushed open the door.

As it turned out, it was neither her ass nor his gallantry that had prompted Edwin's offer to allow Roz ahead of him, but the simple fact that he was a man who walked with a dreadful limp and knew that taking the steps behind him was bound to make for an unbearably slow and frustrating climb.

From the fourth-floor landing, they could see Fran hanging out the open door, a plastic tumbler of drink in hand.

"Come on, Gimpy," Fran called, not yet drunk, just naturally crass. She turned and yelled into the apartment:

"One more flight and the Gimp'll have made it."

Now doubly horrified. . . by her tainted hand and by Fran's unconscionable ridicule of this poor limping guy. . . Roz watched as Fran herded Edwin through the apartment door, and then she flicked a wrist and whacked Fran on the rather substantial flank of her upper arm. Ice cubes clunked in the jostled tumbler.

"You rat," Roz scolded, her face contorting into an overly dramatized approximation of appalled.

Fran gave Roz a reciprocal whack that nearly sent her sprawling down the stairs she'd just so arduously climbed.

"What's next?" Roz hissed. "You going to start hanging around St. Vincent's poking fun at the bedridden?"

Fran guffawed, flapped her arm toward the apartment door through which Edwin had disappeared, then gave another amused snort. "You mean the Gimp'"


"Roz-Roz," Fran said, wrapping her arm around Roz and guiding her, too, into the apartment, "things are hardly as they appear, my darling."

Edwin "The Gimp" Anderson, it soon became clear, was not a cripple but a casualty of the Mad River Glen Ski Area. Fran's party guests were all skiers, except Roz, who had lived her twenty-nine years on the island of Manhattan and could imagine nothing so unpleasant as a vacation in the middle of God-Knows-Where, Vermont, frostbitten on the side of a mountain with six feet of deadly fiberglass strapped to the bottom of each of the only two feet she had. There was much debate throughout the course of the evening as to what his accident said about Edwin's downhill prowess. Roz, having washed her hands thoroughly, sat on the floor of Fran's sparsely furnished bachelorette pad trying not to flash her underwear to absolutely everyone in the room, sipping her Vodka Collins, and pondering how she might offer herself up as an object of ridicule just to save poor Edwin from the barrage of attention which she was sure he had never before attracted in his short little library-squirreled life. Though he was taking it remarkably well (some, including Barb Carpenter, who always found it within her to come to the defense of any marginally attractive male in distress, did, after all, believe that Edwin's fall on a particularly icy stretch of "the Goat," a double black diamond slope, in no way indicated that the mountain had gotten the better of him), Edwin was taking it mostly in the face, his blush a shade of magenta not dissimilar to Roz's minidress, the purchase of which she was growing to regret more with every passing moment, vowing that, if she managed to escape Fran's without spilling anything particularly disastrous on herself, she would return to Marimekko the next day on her lunch hour and exchange it for the turquoise she knew she should have gone with in the first place. Her down-the-hall neighbor, Loralee, whom Roz had consulted for final fashion inspection that evening before she'd headed over to Fran's, had assured Roz that only she could pull off a dress like that so fabulously. Roz wasn't convinced. She had always wanted to be a devil-may-care girl, proud and irrepressibly fuchsia. The fact was, she felt a lot more comfortable in blue. With maybe a few more inches of material to cover up her rather nice but very white thighs.

Edwin Anderson, a newly anointed lawyer fresh from the heartland. . . who wanted, he avowed earnestly, to do work in civil rights. . . cornered Roz in Fran's kitchen, where she'd retreated for a few moments of reprieve under the pretense of replenishing the bean dip. She was in the process of adding another jigger of vodka to her Collins when the door swung open to yield Edwin, carrying the near-empty potato chip bowl like a monk begging for alms.

"Fran sent me for chips," he announced.

"What are you, the lackey'" Roz tossed another jigger into her drink for good measure and pawed around the countertop for the screw cap she'd set down somewhere. "Fran sent you to shame me out of raiding her liquor cabinet, is what you've actually been dispatched to do." Roz waggled the bottle toward him.

"In that case," said Edwin, "she picked the wrong spy." He set his chip bowl on top of the fridge where he'd be sure to forget about it completely, and started opening Fran's cabinets one after another in search of a clean glass. "What're you mixing'" he asked. "Over the sink, on the left," Roz said. "Collins." She paused. "Collinses' Collinsi?" "It could be like lice?" Edwin suggested. "Ice' In the freezer," Roz said. "Do I look like a bartender' You've got arms." "No, I, no, I mean, I meant the plural. Louse, lice. Mouse, mice. It could be like that. Or even like children. You know: child, children." "Edwin," Roz said, facing him dead on, "tonight we're making yours a triple."

Edwin Anderson had not one iota of New York savvy, yet he managed to surreptitiously extract Roz's phone number from Fran's kitchen address book, and telephoned Roz the very next evening not two minutes after she'd walked in the door from work, the new Marimekko bag in hand, to ask her out on a date.

"To see the symphony," he said.

Roz was trying to wriggle out of her panty hose, the phone clamped precariously between her shoulder and her jaw. "Is that the bargain deal for people who can't afford to go and hear the symphony?" she asked him.
Edwin didn't laugh. "Actually," he said, "I've only got one ticket. I thought you'd watch while I listen. We could switch at intermission if you'd like."

Roz was utterly unprepared for sarcasm from the mouth of a Nebraska farm boy. And a lawyer too, no less. A legal secretary, Roz spent her days surrounded by lawyers and found them, on the whole, to be a humorless lot.

"What'd you do?" Edwin asked. "Drop the phone?"

"No," she said, grabbing hold of the receiver. She lifted her feet from the floor in front of the couch, panty hose still bunched around her ankles, and scissored her legs apart and together thinking such an exercise might have surprising effects on her butt, which she was sure would be the first thing to go as she sagged her way into middle age.

"I could pick you up," he suggested. "Tomorrow evening, say around seven . . ."

Suddenly it felt like a challenge. "OK, sure," Roz said. He seemed harmless enough. And, honestly, when she thought about it, she could not remember once, ever, having had a man ask her to something so elegant as the symphony.

"It was perfectly adequate," Roz told Loralee, who came knocking voraciously on Roz's door for details when she returned from her date with Edwin Anderson. Loralee was a bombshell, about as savvy as a tulip, and monogamously devoted to her incurably philandering boss, which, Roz told her regularly, quite obviously stemmed from Loralee's deep-seated fears of dating in New York City.

"So, any mushy stuff?" Loralee sat on the carpet, her back up against Roz's front door as if to block all means of escape.

"Actually, yes," Roz said. She was flopped out on the couch, conducting Brahms in the air with her left foot.

"We went for an ice cream."

"Mmmmm. What flavor?" Loralee demanded.

"I had Butter Pecan."

"No, the gentleman," Loralee prodded.


"Sugar cone?"

Roz nodded.


"You said it," Roz concurred.

When Edwin called a week later to invite Roz on an architectural walking tour of Harlem, she lied, right through those mildly crooked but admirably white teeth she took such pains to brush and floss. "I'm sorry. That sounds lovely, but I'm spending the weekend up in Westchester. My aunt and uncle's place, you know?"

"Sure," Edwin said, about as suspicious as a ballpoint pen. "Some other time."

"OK, well, actually, I've actually got to get off the phone, Edwin. Thanks for the thought."

"Sure," he said. "No problem."

"Well, bye," she said, taking the receiver from her ear before he had a chance to sign off, though there was no doubt that he would anyway.

Eight million people in the city of New York, what could the numerical odds possibly be of running into the one person you've told you'll be out of town' But it was Sunday afternoon, on the Fifth Avenue bus, right by the Metropolitan, when someone brushed Roz on his way toward the back door and paused there, his breath just behind her ear "Westchester, huh'" he said, his voice cold as chrome, and she didn't even have a chance to turn around before she spotted that telltale seersucker jacket mounting the steps of the Museum of Art.

Without thinking, Roz yanked on the signal cord, hollered "Getting off!" and plowed her way to the back door. She dashed up the museum steps and grabbed at the sleeve of Edwin's jacket. He turned, calm as only a nonnative New Yorker could be, and faced Roz on a landing halfway up the imposing bank of steps that served to weed out the faint of heart and bar the cardiovascularly unfit from access to the world's great art. Now that Roz was there, panting from her sprint and still clinging to the material at Edwin's elbow, she was at a loss for words. Any excuse would be paltry and disingenuous. And Roz, who took silence to be a sign of nothing less than death, couldn't bear it. "I just . . . I mean . . . I'm. . . ," she stuttered.
Edwin interrupted. "That was rude of me," he said. "Not to mention juvenile. I apologize."


"I said I was sorry for. . . "

She cut him off this time. "You're apologizing to me? You can't apologize to me. You've been nothing but perfectly nice and I lie, and then I get caught like a kid in the cookie jar and now you think you should be. . . "

". . . Apologizing for baking the cookies in the first place'" He chuckled.

"Exactly." Roz couldn't identify her own emotions, but was afraid she sounded annoyed, or self-righteous, as if she'd just said I told you so and was waiting for Edwin to concede his own mistake.
Instead, he said, "Have you seen the Goya exhibit yet?"

"What?" Roz was disarmed.

"Goya," Edwin said. "That's what I came to see."

"Well, I, but . . . You want me to come with you?"

"Sure," he said, and there was nothing left to do but accept. If it was a game, she didn't know the rules. If it wasn't, if he was actually this trusting and forgiving a human being, the man was going to last about another week in New York before he fled on a train back to Nebraska, where the waves of grain were amber, the plains fruited, and the girls as simple and blond as sunflowers.

That evening they ate Indian food beneath billowing purple tapestries at a little place on Sixth Street where the curry was so hot Roz had gulped her own glass of water in one breath and then moved on to Edwin's, which he had pushed insistently toward her without a word. They went to Little Italy the next weekend, and for drinks one evening after work in a tiny brownstone yard turned garden bistro. They strolled the Bronx Botanical Garden, and prowled Greenwich Village, Edwin's architectural guide in hand, and when they stopped for hot dogs on a bench beside a playground, he read to her descriptions of Gothic facades and flying buttresses that sounded, through his Midwestern appreciation and awe, as much like poetry as any verse she'd ever heard. It was her apartment they'd retire to at the end of an evening since his roommate, a law student at NYU, seemed never to venture out of doors, and though Edwin almost never stayed the night at Roz's (he worked early in the morning, and as the firm's underling lawyer, he liked to be fresh when he arrived at the office), he almost always stayed until Roz was just on the edge of sleep, when he would kiss her softly, gather his clothes, and dress in the dark before he let himself out, pulling the door silently shut behind him.

He was not, in any way, a man Roz would have imagined for herself. He was four years her junior, for god's sake, and he'd never really even known a Jew before Roz, let alone kissed one. He still limped a bit from his injury, and though he wasn't short. . . five eight, the same as Roz. . . he certainly wasn't tall. He had fair and honest good looks but lacked even an ounce of the dark mystery, furtive heart, or swarthy sophistication that Roz had clambered after for most of her adult life. But there was a point at which one tired of clambering, and Roz wondered if maybe she was reaching hers. A point when you stopped looking for Eden and set down your bags right where you were just to have the weight off your back. And maybe you stopped and built yourself a little house then, not because you'd found paradise but because the land was fertile, the view pleasant, the water clear and cold. When Loralee pried Roz for details about the clean-cut and exceedingly polite young man she often encountered late at night in the lobby of their apartment building, he on his way out, she on her way in, panty hose tucked into her purse, all Roz could manage to say on Edwin's behalf was, "I don't know, Loralee. He's not a shit," disbelieving her own words as she spoke them, as though she'd always understood shittiness to be an intrinsic male characteristic, as essential to attraction as musk.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Thisbe Nissen is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former James Michener Fellow. She is the author of Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night, and her stories have appeared in Story and Seventeen. A native New Yorker, she now lives in Iowa.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Good People of New York 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding book. Aahhh... the ending was great!I would tell everyone to read this book.hmm.. it would be a good movie!lol, just a thought.**********!Thats how many stars it needs!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently went on a trip with my family to Paris France. After devouring three other books on this particular vacation, i was hungry for a familliar language after taking only one year of middle school French. In an English language bookstoor i found The Good People of New york. I was finished before we came home. As a teenager I could relate to Miranda's relationships with her mother, friends, boyfriends, and all the other exciting characters. I would recomend this book to anyone who was ready for an excellent read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
wonderful novel about two evolving women in New York City. Nissen captures the essence of the city with grace. The conclusion leaves a bit to yearn for; nonetheless, it was enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was incredibly enjoyable to read. I felt a real connection to the characters and their situations. A fun read for a summer afternoon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a 'new age' teenager myself, I could really relate to Thisbe Nissen's 'The Good People of New York'. In my school, books with this much meaning are not read. Not often is there a book that will hold a teenagers attention, but this book was outstanding! I finished it in three days. Everyday after school I came home and read for hours, devouring this gripping novel. The characters really spoke to me, and I related to them, their problems, and their lives whole-heartedly!! Thank you for the best book I have ever read!!! This book deserves *6* stars not 5!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished reading The Good People of New York. I highly recommend this novel for any who wishes to read a story with a very unique character. Thisbe Nissen is brilliant with words. This is one of the only books I've read where I have felt a direct connection to the story and the two main characters. The language is fluid and the story is moving. Becoming attached to the characters is not at all difficult. I would love to see a sequel to this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book on vacation by the pool in three days. It's not a book about New York City but instead a book about relationships, coming of age and dealing with the blows you are given. I laughed out loud many times and groaned in frustration with the characters choices. Wonderful characters, I miss them already.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the book, 'The Good People of New York.' I first read a section of it in a magazine and i instantly loved it. It's a book based more on younger kids and I think that the situation is very unusual. Over all, I like it a lot.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1970 Lower Manhattan, Cornhusker Edwin Anderson meets native Roz Rosenzweig while both are on hands and knees searching for a key to an apartment where a party is occurring. To her surprise the saucy Roz finds she actually likes the ¿Gimp¿, nicknamed for his skiing prowess or lack of. A few months later, Roz and Edwin marry and soon have a child.

By the time their child Miranda reaches fifth grade, the marriage between Edwin and Roz disintegrates as she only has time for their daughter. Roz vows to be her daughter¿s best friend. However, as Miranda grows up, she wants a mother not a sister. As she struggles with relationships, Miranda knows she cannot turn to her mother for comfort because Roz is growing up too.

THE GOOD PEOPLE OF New York is an entertaining in depth look at growing up in Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. The story line contains a twist to the typical coming of age story as a loving mother and daughter grow up simultaneously and thus heartbreakingly impact their relationship even as they clearly love one another. New York has rarely been seen through a 'clearer' kaleidoscope then the one that Thisbe Nissen provides the reader. The author¿s debut novel will thrill readers who enjoy looking back a two to three decades within an emotional tale.

Harriet Klausner