Just as the Upper East Side of Manhattan is the setting for stories about rich and evil rich women who oppress and depress everyone around them, the Upper West Side is the scene for romances that bud in the park or neighborhood cafes. Schine's frothy novel is Harry meets Sally and Rover. Walking her pit bull, Jody falls for Everett, even though he sometimes sports a pink umbrella, which Jody decides is a sign of masculine security. Polly forms a triangle with her mutt and her brother, George, who is a bit of a puppy himself. Nicole Roberts reads this romantic comedy with enthusiasm, but she isn't very strong on character voices. Polly sounds identical to Jody. George, Everett, Simon and the other male characters also sound pretty much alike. Only Doris, a local with a sharp tongue, has a suitable voice. Despite the lack of the true performance that this novel deserves, the sitcom cast and quick pace of Roberts's reading make this an amusing summer listen. Simultaneous release with the Sarah Crichton Books hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 26). (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The New Yorkersby Cathleen Schine
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
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Inspired by her account in The New Yorker of adopting a profoundly troubled dog named Buster, acclaimed author Cathleen Schine's The New Yorkers is a brilliantly funny story of love, longing, and overcoming the shyness that leashes us. On a quiet little block near Central Park, five/i>/i>
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Inspired by her account in The New Yorker of adopting a profoundly troubled dog named Buster, acclaimed author Cathleen Schine's The New Yorkers is a brilliantly funny story of love, longing, and overcoming the shyness that leashes us. On a quiet little block near Central Park, five lonely New Yorkers find one another, compelled to meet by their canine companions. Over the course of four seasons, they emerge from their apartments, in snow, rain, or glorious sunshine to make friends and sometimes fall in love. A love letter to a city full of surprises, The New Yorkers is an enchanting comedy of manners (with dogs!) from one of our most treasured writers.
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The New Yorkers
By Cathleen Schine
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2007 Cathleen Schine
All rights reserved.
"I live here! I live here!"
We'll begin our story with Jody. She had lived on the block in her studio apartment since college, a luxurious accommodation at the time, certainly when compared to the dorm room she was leaving. After twenty years, the one room no longer struck her as luxurious, but the morning light was still lovely, the stabilized rent remained artificially low, and the large room with its beautiful bay window, high ceiling, and molding in the shape of twisted rope continued to be her home.
In the back of the room there was a step up into a doll-size kitchen, and behind that another step led to the bathroom. Jody had recently painted the apartment herself — a soft yellow color called Nigerian Peony. The moldings and the ceiling, of which she was particularly proud, were white and glossy. Whenever the room glowed in the sunlight from the big bay window, Jody congratulated herself on the serenity of her well-ordered existence, reassured that the weekends spent atop a tall ladder had been worth the effort. She kept the ladder in the linen closet with her expensive and carefully folded sheets. Jody was frugal in general, buying her clothes at reasonably priced chain stores, but sheets were in an entirely different category. Sheets were sacrificial objects offered with fear and humility to the gods of the night. Each night, Jody stretched out beneath the smooth Egyptian cotton not as a sybarite, but as a penitent, a pilgrim, a seeker, and what she sought was sleep.
In the middle of the night on which our story begins, as in the middle of most nights, Jody lay in bed and worried. She was a cheerful person by day, almost to the point of officiousness, but at night she suffered. The fragments of her busy life loomed above her like ghosts, like the IRS, like mothers-in-law. She stared into the darkness and faced her faults and her omissions. It was a heavy darkness that surrounded her at these times, both hot and close, the breath of recrimination, and, at the same time, vast, icy, and uncaring. She tried counting, of course, and counting backward, as if she were about to undergo an operation and had just been administered the anesthetic. She tried singing, sometimes the tune of a piece she was practicing, sometimes Gilbert and Sullivan songs, a staple of her household growing up, to which she knew all the lyrics. Sometimes she would have the impulse to sing the most melodic bits loud and clear, letting her voice ring out in the dark bedroom. But she would stop herself. Even if no one was beside her, and it was usually the case that no one was beside her, the sound of her voice among the demons of her sleeplessness was jarring and ridiculous.
She would tell people at school the next day that she hadn't slept a wink. This was one of the few compensations for her insomnia: the other teachers nodded not with sympathy, exactly, but with understanding and, most important, with respect. They, too, had known sleepless nights, but they had eventually come to admit that Jody was the most sleepless of them all. It conveyed upon her a certain status that she had come almost to treasure.
Jody always smiled as she described her battle to fall asleep. Her habitual and sincere modesty fell away and she became positively smug. Perhaps she would have behaved differently if she had looked as sleepless as she was. But Jody's eyes were clear and bright and no dark circles swelled beneath them. With her short blonde hair, and dressed in crisp ironed blouses and tight-fitting pants, she was pretty in an open, sunny way. She smelled fresh and clean and moved with a soft, invigorated energy. The children loved her, she worked hard, and people were grateful to her. They turned to her when they needed assistance or counsel on the job, and though she was only thirty-nine years old and looked younger, she was referred to affectionately as "Good Old Jody."
Her colleagues respected her and they were friendly to her, but not one of them was her friend. Jody sometimes wondered if this was her fault. But then, who else's fault could it be? It's not the mailman's fault, she would remind herself. It's not the vice principal's fault. It's not even the Republicans' fault. Wherein, then, did her own fault lie? This was a mystery to Jody, one she pondered at night in bed.
Naturally, she had gotten herself a dog. She originally set out to get a cat, thinking that as she seemed to be moving headlong into eccentric spinsterhood, she should begin collecting some of its accoutrements. But when she arrived at the ASPCA, she saw an elderly dog, an oversize pit bull mix so white it was almost pink, a female, who wagged her tail with such stately pessimism that Jody took the huge beast home. She named the dog Beatrice, though she had sworn not to give her new pet a person's name, thinking it faddish and particularly pathetic for a childless woman. But the dog seemed to her to deserve a real name. Beatrice was not a youngster. The ASPCA had picked her up wandering the streets of the Bronx. Half starved and covered with ticks, she had obviously survived a harsh and difficult existence. Beatrice was a name with inherent dignity. Jody felt the old dog deserved that.
Fattened up and well groomed now, Beatrice was a noble-looking animal with enigmatic blue eyes that constantly sought out Jody's with measured determination. She moved slowly, and though she was not playful, she was amiable and particularly loved strangers, throwing her great weight at them in a joyful greeting, unaware, presumably, that such a welcome might not always be, in fact, welcome. She trusted everyone, which was a testament to her gentle nature, as no one until now had ever earned her trust. But Beatrice seemed to be above the failures of the world, and they far beneath her. She had seen a lot, she seemed to be saying, and so nothing surprised her, nothing frightened her, nothing fazed her. She was lucky to be alive, and she seemed to know it.
Jody turned on the light and looked at Beatrice sprawled on the rug beside the bed. She petted the dog's wide forehead. Beatrice's head was big and boxy, like a child's drawing of a dog's head. She seemed to grin, her mouth and jaw were so wide. Her tongue lolled out like a great pink washcloth. Then Beatrice lifted her square head and licked Jody's hand. Jody scratched the dog's ragged ears and thought, I have become an eccentric music teacher with a dog instead of an eccentric music teacher with a cat. I take brisk walks in the rain with my dog by my side instead of curling up by the electric fire with a cup of tea and my cat on my lap. Although maybe, she thought, as Beatrice heaved her pale bulk onto the bed, there's not all that much difference. And she smiled at her fate. She had gotten Beatrice eight months ago, eight months of blissful, energetic adoration and companionship on both sides. When she was lonely, she would glance at Beatrice. When she needed someone to talk to, she would talk to Beatrice. Jody felt that her life, though hardly complete by customary standards, would do very well.
Then, Jody met Everett and fell in love. This occurred just two days after the sleepless night described above. Jody, after a long week teaching small children to sing in harmony and tap wooden blocks to a 3/4 beat, had set out for a leisurely weekend walk with Beatrice. It was February and the sky was getting lighter each evening, but this particular afternoon it was snowing lightly, and the world was gray. In the park, Beatrice was as excited as a child, pushing her nose along the thin white film on the grass, rolling wildly, her muscular legs kicking the air. Amused and touched, Jody stayed even longer than usual, though it began snowing in earnest and she was wet through by the time they headed home. They waited at a red light at Columbus Avenue in the swirling wind, and it was when the light turned green and they crossed the street that Jody saw Everett. She didn't know his name. But when he smiled at her through the shroud of snow, she thought she had never seen a man so beautiful in all her life. She turned and watched him go into the corner market. He must live nearby, she thought. He's gone out to get milk. She would have stayed and waited and followed him home, but for the cold, the shame of it, and the large pit bull pulling on the leash.
I really am a spinster now, she thought — falling in love with an oblivious handsome stranger in the street. And, as if to prove it, she put on the teakettle as soon as she got home.
Everett hadn't even known it was snowing until he got outside. He pushed open the door and whirling crystals stung his eyes. A bicycle chained to a signpost was topped with pillows of snow, the handlebars, the seat, the curve of the wheels.
Everett was an ordinary-looking man, until he smiled. Then he became handsome, beautiful even, and showy, like a big, fragrant prize-winning rose. He appeared boyish, a sullen boy but boyish nevertheless, with his somewhat round face and regular features. His hair was brown, neither dark nor light, with just the slightest touch of gray. Only when he smiled and became beautiful did people notice, as if for the first time, that his eyes were a radiant blue, that his cheeks bloomed with the pink of a child though he was fifty years old.
He hadn't smiled much recently. He was feeling down in the dumps, as his mother would have put it. He had worked hard all his life and he continued to work hard, and he was bored. He frightened the young chemists who worked for him, and he was glad, it was a break in his boredom to watch them duck their heads and mumble their findings, their questions, even their names in tremulous confusion. When a fifty-year-old man is bored, he is said to be having a midlife crisis. Everett's girlfriend, Leslie, had pointed this out to him.
* * *
"No," Everett said. "Boredom is simply a failure of imagination."
And as soon as the words came out of his mouth, he realized they were true, that his imagination was failing, and he became not only bored but depressed.
"You need Prozac or something," Leslie said.
But Everett was already taking Prozac.
"Oh," Leslie said. "Well. A trip, then."
"I'm not going anywhere," Everett said. His tone was harsher than he meant it to be. Leslie was just trying to help, after all. But it occurred to him that though he had been dating Leslie for only a month, Leslie was one of the things he was bored with.
"This too shall pass," she said, kissing him on the cheek.
They had been walking down Central Park West. The gray evening had settled around the Museum of Natural History. The blue glow of the planetarium rested easily within the night sky, the bare trees, the nineteenth-century brick. Everett noticed the curious harmony and found it comforting.
"Yes," he'd said.
"Kind of like herpes," Leslie said. "You know? Or shingles."
Everett missed his daughter. The snow would have delighted her when she was a child. Now she would just squint into the wind and try not to slip on her way to the subway, like everybody else. Everett could feel the absence of her little hand in his. Once she left home to go to college, the apartment had become empty, and Everett and his wife, Alison, had looked at each other across their bed as if across a vast, weary wasteland. Their daughter had been baffled and furious when they divorced. She wanted to be able to come home to the home she'd always had. She didn't understand that she had taken that home away with her, forever.
Everett realized that he had not been a particularly attentive father, and so his desolation came as a surprise. He had enjoyed Emily, certainly, observed her, as if she were one of a colony of ants in a glass-sided ant farm, and gloried in her, too. She was always so busy, had so many projects and worries and schemes and demands. She was so noisy. Now his life was quiet, muffled, like the snowy street.
He stood on the corner waiting for the light to change. When it did, the blur of red becoming a blur of green, a peppy little woman and a giant dog appeared, apparitions in the silver storm. The dog stared at him through its narrow slit eyes. They walked toward each other. The dog was so white its pink skin showed through. It looked like an enormous lab rat. With slit blue eyes. Everett thought how cold the dog must be in the stinging snow. As they passed each other, the pink beast wagged her tail and pushed her face against his thigh, leaving a thin trail of slobber.
"Beatrice!" said the woman.
Everett wondered why dogs liked him. He certainly did not return the sentiment.
"It's nothing," he said, for the woman seemed truly upset. She was small and wide-eyed, rather pretty in a hurried, breathless sort of way, he thought. He forced himself to put his gloved hand on the dog's head. "It's nothing," he said again, and he smiled, first at Beatrice, the dog, then at the woman.
"Oh!" she said. She looked at him intently.
Everett walked on. What was the etiquette for a chance trail of dog slobber in a violent snowstorm? He had done his best.
He pushed through the heavy plastic curtains that protected the oranges and strawberries and apples and tulips from the cold, snowy wind and made his way into the Korean grocery. He didn't know if they were really Koreans. He supposed the ones who spoke Spanish to each other were not. He bought milk and went home, his shoes wet and white with the new, brief purity of snow. He passed the gay man who ran the corner restaurant struggling along the slippery sidewalk carrying his dogs, one under each arm. He nodded, but the man, whose name was Jimmy, he thought, or something like that, did not seem to notice him, and he felt a little let down.
When he saw the flashing red light glowing and haloed in the winter storm, he stood on the sidewalk and waited as a stretcher was wheeled awkwardly through the drifts and into the back of an ambulance. He congratulated himself on not staring at the figure bundled in blankets, respectful of someone else's tragedy. But then, in a sudden, irrational panic, he called out, "I live here! I live here!" A policeman took his arm and said, "There's been an accident. Apartment 4F." Everett thought: 4F. The disgruntled elderly man downstairs. He always carried an umbrella. Everett waited for the elevator. He noticed two cans of Fancy Feast cat food on the console in the lobby. Tenants often displayed things there that they didn't want but apparently could not bear to throw away. It enraged Everett: Was this the Salvation Army? He lived on the fifth floor but got off on the fourth and stood in front of the door of the man who always carried an umbrella.
"He's dead," a neighbor said excitedly. She was standing, in orange fuzzy slippers, with other neighbors in their Sunday afternoon disarray, as well as several police officers, outside apartment 4F. "I don't even know his name," she said. She grabbed Everett's arm. "He killed himself," she said softly.
"I don't know his name, either," Everett said after an awkward silence, and he felt guilty, as if that were why the man had killed himself. He imagined the man stretched out in the ambulance, his long face covered, his umbrella beside him.
"What about the dog?" the neighbor in fuzzy slippers was now saying, still clinging to Everett but addressing a policeman. Everett looked with distaste at her footwear, at her generally disheveled outfit of sweatshirt and exercise tights. It occurred to him that he knew none of his neighbors' names, though he had lived here for two years. He stepped away from her.
"Should we call the ASPCA or something?" this nameless person was asking.
"There's no dog here," one of the police officers said.
"A little puppy," the woman insisted. "He got it last week."
Why, Everett wondered, would a man get a puppy and then kill himself? And he went home to put away his quart of milk, almost invigorated and considerably less bored than when he had gone out.
* * *
The storm raged for twenty-four hours, then settled into a gentle billow of fat, wet flakes, then stopped altogether as the temperature dropped to three degrees. Small dogs ran up the sides of cars buried in drifts to pee triumphantly at the crest of these mountains. Streets were silent and impassable. It was too cold for children and their sleds. At five that evening, Jody took Beatrice to the park. The old dog, in a thick pink cable-knit sweater, bounded through the snow as Jody struggled to keep up. Branches creaked, glassy, coated with ice. The air was still and cold as death, then alive with blasts of bitter, angry wind. The pathways in Central Park had been sprinkled with sand, already ground into the filthy ice. Jody watched each step in order not to slip. She had wrapped a scarf around her head and it covered her nose and mouth. She breathed the heat of her own breath. Her hood blocked her vision, like the blinders on a carriage horse.
Excerpted from The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine. Copyright © 2007 Cathleen Schine. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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