The View from Penthouse B

The View from Penthouse B

3.7 14
by Elinor Lipman, Mia Barron
     
 

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Two sisters recover from widowhood, divorce, and Bernie Madoff as unexpected roommates in Manhattan.See more details below

Overview

Two sisters recover from widowhood, divorce, and Bernie Madoff as unexpected roommates in Manhattan.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
11/01/2013
Sisters Gwen and Margot are living in an apartment with Anthony, their gay roommate. Margot is dealing with her paroled ex-husband who moved in downstairs plus financial woes thanks to a Madoff-esque scheme. Gwen is jumping back into the dating scene after mourning her husband for two years. This well-written, character-driven book about sisters, second chances, dating, grief, and forgiveness plays out with unexpected humor. Mia Barron's narration is very well done; she embodies the characters with wit and snark when warranted, and her comedic timing fits the story very well. VERDICT Recommended for listeners who enjoy character studies with a touch of humor. ["Middle-age love, family dynamics, and friendship make [Lipman's] latest [title] jarringly funny, touching, and vividly amusing," read the review of the Houghton Harcourt hc, LJ 2/15/13.]—Susie Sharp, Eddy-New Rockford Lib., ND
The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
…a tender, funny story of two middle-aged sisters…The View From Penthouse B sparkles with wit.
The Washington Post - Wendy Smith
It's all wonderful fun. Lipman sketches her characters' foibles with amused affection and moves the plot forward with practiced ease…It's giving nothing away to say that both sisters get the happy ending they deserve because Lipman's fiction always honors an implicit contract to provide reader satisfaction.
Publishers Weekly
After losing her divorce settlement in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, Margot settles into a new penthouse in Greenwich Village with her widowed, jobless sister, Gwen-Laura Schmidt, and Anthony Sarno, a gay, recently laid-off, 20-something financier. The result, in Lipman’s thin 11th novel (after The Family Man), is a makeshift homey boarding house for lost souls. After Margot’s ex-husband Charles Pierrepont is released from a cushy prison, where he was serving time for inseminating patients at his OBGYN clinic with his own sperm, he moves into her building and begins to worm his way back into her life. Chaste Gwen-Laura decides to get back into the dating pool, but most of her suitors are more interested in sex than companionship. Meanwhile dynamic interloper Anthony tries to break the sisters out of their stalled state. Lipman’s choppy dialogue rarely delves beneath the surface, and for an author known for her sense of humor, this novel is sorely void of laughs. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"More delicious than my cup of steaming cocoa…tender, funny…The View from Penthouse B sparkles with wit." —The New York Times Book Review

"It's all wonderful fun. Lipman sketches her characters' foibles with amused affection and moves the plot forward with practiced ease…Lipman's fiction always honors an implicit contract to provide reader satisfaction." —Washington Post

"Sophisticated…Lipman dramatizes Gwen-Laura's dating with her usual tact and dry humor." —Wall Street Journal

"[A] shabby-chic fantasia…Lipman's milieu is gentle comedy, and her novels gravitate toward optimism: They're mischievous, sometimes wry, but hopeful of romance and redemption even in an emotionally messy world." —The Boston Globe

"A sly comedy of modern manners." —The Miami Herald

"Winning and often wildly funny…This novel, in fact, disappears faster than a red-velvet cupcake, even when you try to read more slowly because the diminishing number of pages means you're unfortunately getting closer to the acknowledgments." —The Seattle Times

"The View from Penthouse B mixes sisters, online dating, and Bernie Madoff's victims into a witty confection." —Parade

Library Journal
Gwen-Laura Consadine, widowed and still grieving after two years, moves into a swanky Manhattan penthouse at her older sister Margot's invitation. Margot's place is a bit too much for her to keep on her own now that her money has been Madoff-Ponzied away, a fact that she chronicles on her little-read blog. Margot has reason to vent publicly: her ex-husband, a fertility specialist, is doing prison time for an überscandal. While Gwen needs to be shaken out of her grief and Margot needs to come out of her rage, both need occupation, money, and direction. Enter Anthony, their third roommate and a cupcake artist with a knack for handling older women. Anthony is essential when Gwen is determined to start a business built on the idea of the "Chaste Dates" for which she longs, and once the fertility doctor is back on the scene. VERDICT Lipman (Then She Found Me; The Inn at Lake Devine) hits her stride again. Middle-age love, family dynamics, and friendship makes her latest jarringly funny, touching, and vividly amusing.—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar College Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Lipman's latest is a post–financial-crash comedy about a 50-ish widow and her divorced sister living together in a Greenwich Village apartment. After the heart-attack death of her beloved husband, Gwen-Laura accepts her older sister Margot's invitation to move into Margot's penthouse both for companionship and to save money. Margo's ex, fertility doctor Charles, is in jail for behavior that was both scandalously illegal and adulterous. Margo, who made the unfortunate mistake of investing her divorce settlement with scam artist Bernie Madoff, is now not only divorced, but broke. Margo is a drama queen with a blog devoted to anti-Madoff resentment. Gwen-Laura is a bit of a retiring mouse who doesn't acknowledge her potential sex appeal. (Their bossy younger sister Betsy is still married, employed and financially solvent.) Soon, the sisters move in an unrelated, not exactly appropriate roommate: former Lehman Brother employee Anthony, who is not only gay, but in his 20s. Fueled by liquor and the wonderful cupcakes Anthony bakes, the three are having a lovely time together when Charles, newly sprung from prison, moves into a studio apartment in the same building and starts a campaign to win back Margot that includes introducing everyone to his newly discovered 19-year-old son, Chaz, the result of his fertility hanky-panky. Will Margot drop her new blog boyfriend, screen named HardUp, for narcissistic but maybe self-improving Charles? Will Gwen-Laura ever meet a decent man once she grudgingly enters the world of Internet dating? Will Anthony meet a decent man too? The answers are not terribly surprising, but Lipman is more interested in the jokes than the characters, taking a sitcom approach. Although the author throws in plenty of contemporary social details, Gwen-Laura and Margot feel dated, closer to the world of Auntie Mame than Girls and without the edge of either. This book has more romance and less satiric bite than the author's best comic novels (The Family Man, 2009, etc.).

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781624064692
Publisher:
Dreamscape Media
Publication date:
04/16/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 5.04(h) x 1.13(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

1
Fort Necessity

Since Edwin died, I have lived with my sister Margot in the Batavia, an Art Deco apartment building on beautiful West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village. This arrangement has made a great deal of sense for us both: I lost my husband without warning, and Margot lost her entire life’s savings to the Ponzi schemer whose name we dare not speak.

   Though we call ourselves roommates, we are definitely more than that, something on the order of wartime trenchmates. She refers to me fondly as her boarder — ironic, of course, because no one confuses a boarding house with an apartment reached via an elevator button marked ph. In a sense, we live in both luxury and poverty, looking out over the Hudson while stretching the contents of tureens of stews and soups that Margot cooks expertly and cheerfully.

She takes cookbooks out of the library and finds recipes that add a little glamour to our lives without expensive ingredients, so a pea soup that employs a ham bone might start with sautéed cumin seeds or a grilled cheese sandwich is elevated to an entrée with the addition of an exotic slaw on the plate. We mostly get along fine, and our division of labor is fair: cook and dishwasher, optimist and pessimist. 

Margot has turned herself into a professional blogger — or so she likes to announce. Her main topic is the incarcerated lifer who stole all her money, and her readers were primarily her fellow victims. I use “were” instead of “are” because visitors to www.thepoorhouse.com dwindled to zero at one point. The blog produces no money and has no advertisers, but she says it is just as good for confession and self-reflection as the expensive sounding board who once was her psychoanalyst.
   
When asked by strangers what I do, I tell them I have something on the drawing board, hoping my mysterious tone implies Can’t say more than that. So far, it’s only a concept, one that grew out of my own social perspective. It occurred to me that there might be a niche for arranging evenings between a man and a woman who desired nothing more than companionship. The working title for my organization is “Chaste Dates.” So far, no one finds it either catchy or appealing.
   
Best-case scenario: I’d network with licensed matchmakers and establish reciprocity. They’d send me their timid, and I’d send them my marriage-minded. Might there be singletons with a healthy fear of intimacy versus the sin-seekers of Match.com? I hope to find them.

Everyone I’ve confided in — my younger sister, Betsy, for example, who has a job in banking in the sticky, bundling side of mortgages — hates the idea and/or tells me I’m thinking small. She’s the sister who is always alert to rank and ambition. Her husband is a lawyer who didn’t make partner, left the law, and teaches algebra in a public high school in an outer borough of New York. You’d think she’d brag about that, but she doesn’t. Occasionally I catch her telling someone that Andrew went to law school with this president or that first lady and neglecting to mention his subsequent career. I usually tell her later, “You should be proud of what he does.”

“Algebra?” she snarls, despite the fact that, unlike the progeny of a lot of New Yorkers who spend a fortune on tutors, both of her children excel in math. Edwin was a public school teacher, so I expect a little more sensitivity. These conversations push Chaste Dates further into oblivion. Still in mourning, I am easily overwhelmed.

Margot is divorced from Charles, a too-handsome, board-certified physician with an ugly story, who calls our apartment collect from his country club of a prison. He was/is a gynecologist, now under suspension, with a reckless subspecialty that drew the lonely and libidinous. Patients came with an infertility story and left a little ruddier and more relaxed than when they arrived. Who were these women, Margot and I always marvel, who knew how to signal, feet in stirrups, that a doctor’s advances would be deemed not only consensual but medical? Yes, Charles partnered with a sperm bank, whose donors were advertised as brilliant, healthy, handsome men with high IQs, graduate degrees, and above-average height. And, yes, the vast majority of his practice was artificial rather than personal insemination. But for a few, the main draw was Charles himself, a silver-haired, blue-eyed, occasionally sensitive man, the kind of physician women put their faith in and develop a crush on. Overall, it was lucky that Charles suffered from borderline oligospermia — in layman’s terms, a low-to-useless sperm count. Did he know? Of course. We’re not sure how he framed these trespasses, but some patients must have told themselves that a doctor’s fleshly ministrations, midcycle, were donorlike and ethical in some footnoted way, imagining the top-notch child and possible romantic entanglement that his DNA could yield. His bedside talents were such, apparently, that satisfied customers came back for subsequent treatments. Luckily, only one procedure took, only one child was conceived, one son eventually revealed through due diligence. Charles might still be practicing amorous medicine, except that his unknowing bookkeeper charged the paramours a fee commensurate with an outside donor — five thousand dollars, the going rate at the time — and thus fraud of a punishable, actionable kind. “Fraud” on the books; “malpractice,” “adultery,” “grounds for divorce,” and “sin” everywhere else. Margot left the day he was rather publicly arrested. Her settlement was enormous. She bought her penthouse, invested the rest catastrophically, and resumed the use of her maiden name.

Edwin died one month before turning fifty, without getting sick first, due to a malformation of his heart valves that proved fatal. One morning I woke up and found that he hadn’t, a sight and a shock that I wonder if I’ve yet recovered from.

Even twenty-three months after his death, his absence is always present. People assume I am grateful for the memories, but where they’re wrong is that the memories cause more wistfulness than comfort. It’s hard to find a subject that doesn’t summon Edwin, no matter how mundane. All topics — music, food, movies, wall colors, a stranger’s questions about my marital status or the location of the rings on my fingers — bring him back. I haven’t seen much progress in two years. Keeping someone’s memory alive has its voluntary and involuntary properties. You want to and you don’t. You’re not going to hide the photos, but neither will you relocate the images of his formerly happy, healthy, smiling face to your bedside night table. 

Amateur shrinks are everywhere. “Ed wouldn’t want you to be staying home, would he?” — to me, who never called him Ed. And, “If it was you who had died, wouldn’t you want him to find someone else?” They mean well, I’m told. I think Edwin actually would be glad I haven’t remarried, dated, or looked. He wasn’t a jealous husband, but he was a sentimental one.

It’s good to be around Margot, an amusingly bitter ex-wife. She loathes Charles so I join in. We enjoy discussing his felonious acts, a subject we never tire of. Hating Charles is good for her and oddly good for me. We often start the day over coffee with a new insight into his egregiousness. Margot might begin a rant by saying, “Maybe he chose to be an ob-gyn just for this very purpose. Naked women, legs open, one every twenty minutes.” 

The summing up of his character flaws often leads one of us to say, usually with a sigh, that it’s just as well Charles didn’t father a child inside their marriage. Imagine trying to explain his behavior to a son or daughter of any age? Imagine having a jailbird for a father. That, of course, reminds me that Edwin and I tried, but without success and without great commitment. For years, Margot urged me to consult Charles, but who would want to be seen by a brother-in-law in such an intimate arena? Knowing now about his modus operandi, that I might have given birth to my own niece or nephew, I am forever thankful that I resisted. Lately Margot is juicing up her blog by admitting that her ex is the once-esteemed physician-felon who was a tabloid headline for a whole season. As the subject tilts from the recession to his unique brand of adultery, she’s won new readers. Though she’s not much of a stylist, her writing is lively and her pen poisonous in a most engaging way.

Living here is interesting and soothing. It’s a beautiful apartment with what Margot calls “dimensions.” Hallways veer this way and that, so you can’t see from one end of the apartment what’s going on in the other. The building has doormen, porters, and a menagerie of fancy purebred dogs. Edwin and I lived more modestly in a ground-floor, rent-controlled one-bedroom on West End Avenue. The Batavia shares its name with a Dutch ship that struck a reef off the coast of Australia in 1629. Amazingly enough, most of its shipwrecked passengers survived.

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