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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.
"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.
1. Are the characters portrayed in the novel actually “good people, ” and, if so, what makes them “good”? Or, is the title meant to be sarcastic? How so?
2. Fran tells Roz on her first meeting with Edwin, “Things are hardly as they appear” [p. 5]. Where else in Roz’s life does her perception conflict with reality? What does this say about Roz’s character?
3. Why does Roz and Edwin’s marriage end? How does Miranda’s birth change them as individuals? Does their new daughter alter their marriage or merely accentuate differences that were already there? How does the author foreshadow the fate of the marriage long before Roz and Edwin themselves experience it?
4. Is Miranda and Roz’s mother-daughter relationship a realistic one? Roz had intended to be “the fabulous mom-who’s-more-like-a-friend-than-a-mom mom” to Miranda, not a “worrier” like her own mother, Adele [p. 67]. Does Roz live up to her expectations of motherhood? How does Roz’s perception of herself as a mother differ from Miranda’s view of her mother [see pp. 105 and 246]? How accurate is Darrin’s perception of their relationship [p. 237]?
5. What does it mean that Edwin does not have “one iota of New York savvy” [p. 7]? Was Edwin doomed from the beginning to return to Nebraska, “where the waves of grain were amber, the plains fruited, and the girls as simple and blond as sunflowers” [p. 10]? How are the native New Yorkers in the novel more “savvy”? How might Wing and Darrin, also “non-natives, ” rank in terms of on Roz’s scale ofsavviness?
6. Aside from the references to public transportation [pp. 35 and 136], the tragedy of moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn [p. 137], the Metropolitan Museum of Art [p. 9], Zabar’s [p. 66], Bloomingdale’s [p. 133], and other New York City landmarks, what makes The Good People of New York a quintessentially New York novel? How might a non-New Yorker and a New Yorker read this book differently?
7. For which character do you feel the most sympathy? Which characters do not evoke as much compassion and why? How is the author simultaneously sympathetic and sarcastic toward her characters, and how does it affect your ability to relate to them? Is this more true or less true of the secondary characters, such as Ben, Alex, and Shaunna?
8. When Miranda tries to think of Spencer, why can she remember only the night her father left [p. 112]? Is Spencer a father figure to Miranda? What does he teach her?
9. How does Roz’s religion define her? How are Roz’s and Mona’s Judaism manifested differently? Is religion at the core of Roz’s identity? Is it a contributing factor to the failure of her marriage, or is it irrelevant? After Edwin and Roz marry, the author no longer mentions the religion of the people in Roz’s, Edwin’s, and Miranda’s lives. Why not?
10. The imagery of motion permeates The Good People of New York. For example, Roz imagines her courtship with Edwin in terms of arriving at a destination and establishing roots [pp. 11–12] and Miranda associates the paths her parents’ lives have taken with driving [p. 194]. What mood do these travel images and metaphors create? What do they convey about life in New York City? How is the implied sense of perpetual motion, the need to get from one place to another, reflected in the characters?
11. How do the letters from camp in Chapter 7 help advance the plot [pp. 75–90]? How does this chapter hint at the changes to come in Miranda’s family? Where else does Nissen use foreshadowing?
12. Compare the friendships in the book to the relationships among family members. Does one type of relationship seem to take priority over another? How does Ben and Miranda’s relationship demonstrate the way in which lines between family relationships and friends are often blurred? Does the novel accurately reflect how some people drift in and out of our lives and some people stay constant?
13. The novel spans a period of time from just before Miranda’s birth until her eighteenth birthday. Is this primarily Miranda’s story or Roz’s? Does the narrative voice shift successfully from Roz to Miranda? Is either one dominant? Does The Good People of New York fit squarely into the coming-of-age genre, and if so, whose coming-of-age does it portray?
14. Nissen often ends chapters before informing the reader of whether or not an event occurs and later fills in the plot (for example, the death of Adele [Chapter 5], the dissolution of Edwin’s and Roz’s marriage [Chapter 8], and Miranda’s rendezvous with Jeremy [Chapter 10]). How does omitting the description of events when they actually occur affect the development of the novel?
15. How is Roz like Adele [p. 67]? What physical characteristics and personality traits does Miranda inherit from her mother and father?
16. Nissen often includes cultural references to timely popular fads, for example, Roz’s return to law school [p. 65], the “latchkey kid” [p. 91], Obsession perfume [p. 133], the television show Moonlighting [p. 220], and sushi [p. 236]. Do these references successfully convey how society changed from the 1970s through the 1990s, or do they date the novel? How might they affect the reader who did not live through these times or is not familiar with these popular trends? How else does the author convey the changing times?
17. Miranda thinks, “That’s just the way things go: you never get to the place you once looked up to because once you’re there you’re no longer looking up and you realize that maybe it only really existed if you caught it on an angle from below” [p. 269]. How is this sentiment echoed throughout the novel?
Posted September 13, 2004
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 3, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 25, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2001
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 9, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
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. <P> 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. <P> 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. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2013
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