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Visible City

Visible City

3.0 4
by Tova Mirvis

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“A glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Read Visible City. Tova Mirvis’s graceful yet vigorous New York novel is about the half-inadvertent window-peeping that city life enables, and where it can lead.” —New York Magazine


“A glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Read Visible City. Tova Mirvis’s graceful yet vigorous New York novel is about the half-inadvertent window-peeping that city life enables, and where it can lead.” —New York Magazine

After chaotic days of wrangling and soothing her young children, Nina spends her evenings spying on the quiet, contented older couple across the street. But one night, through her same window, she spies a young couple in the throes of passion. Who are these people, and what happened to her symbol of domestic happiness? Soon, Nina crosses paths with both couples on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood and, as anonymity gives way to different forms of intimacy, all begin to confront their own desires and disappointments. Shrewdly and artfully, Mirvis explores the boundaries between our own lives and the lives of others. From its lavish ghost subway stations to its hidden stained-glass windows, Visible City conjures a New York City teeming with buried treasures.
 “An utterly perfect, deeply moving evocation of contemporary Manhattan [that] reminded me of Paula Fox and Laurie Colwin, and also those master chroniclers of the privileged classes, Wharton and Fitzgerald . . . Brilliant.” —Joanna Smith Rakoff, Salon.com

“Mirvis’s meticulously choreographed novel surprises and moves us.” —New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“If you keep talking to strangers… eventually they become friends.” Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers. Mirvis sets her story on New York City’s Upper West Side where two families live in high-rise apartments with their curtains open, one apartment’s windows facing the other’s. Nina, a restless ex-lawyer and current stay-at-home mother, is in possession of her son’s toy binoculars. To fill the lonely hours until her lawyer husband Jeremy gets home from work, she watches, with admiration and growing jealousy, an older couple across the way. One evening, instead of seeing two peaceful companions reading quietly on the couch, Nina sees a youthful couple (temporarily staying in the older couple’s apartment) in a lustful and heated embrace. The sight makes Nina reinterpret the comfortable and quiet love of the older couple, and wish for something closer to what the young couple has. Her new mindset is further complicated when fate steps in, and the lives of Nina’s family and the strangers in the window collide. In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvis elicits the reader’s sympathy for her characters’ conflicting desires. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"In a glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life, a lonely New York City woman uses her son’s toy binoculars to spy on couples whose intimacy she craves." - O, The Oprah Magazine

"Dark, witty...[This] comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacy’s limitations." — Kirkus

"Mirvis focuses her artful prose on the inner lives of modern women and those they love as they face the possibilities of change." - Booklist

"Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers...In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvis elicits the reader’s sympathy for her characters’ conflicting desires." —Publishers Weekly

"Such is Mirvis's finesse and insight that she leaves the reader completely sympathetic with each character's dilemmas…Visible City is a beautifully rendered novel that takes on art, parenting, betrayal and the nature of love.” —Shelf Awareness

"Charming...readers’ curiosity will be piqued." — BookPage

“With artful tenderness and elegant compassion, Tova Mirvis strips her upscale Manhattanites down to their naked loneliness and longings. Her novel is as jewel-like as a stained glass window. Mirvis supplies the light, and the result is dazzling.”—Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur award-winning author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

“A fascinating maze of a novel, following the intersecting lives of two New York families as they come together and fall apart. Gorgeously written and enormously wise on the subjects of art, ambition, parenting, betrayal, and what it means to take care of the ones you love.”  —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family

“Here the hidden is made stunningly visible. One by one, facades are stripped away and the luminous interiors of strangers' lives begin to emerge: in the view-field of a sleepless woman's binoculars, in the flashlight beams of subterranean urban explorers, in the radiance filtering through a long-lost stained glass window, and, always, in the light of Tova Mirvis's kaleidoscopic, tender vision. Visible City illuminates the hearts of both its characters and its readers.”—Rachel Kadish, author of Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story

Visible City reminds us how strangers become intimates and intimates grow estranged. Mirvis writes with passion and unflinching honesty about the small grievances that accumulate until we no longer know the people we love.”—Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

Praise for the work of Tova Mirvis:

“Full of verve and chutzpah.”
New York Times Book Review

“Poignant, funny, sophisticated.”

Kirkus Reviews
Anyone who has spent time in Manhattan or watched Hitchcock's Rear Window will recognize the voyeuristic pleasure that jump-starts Mirvis' (The Outside World, 2004, etc.) third novel, as a bored young mother stands at her apartment window watching across-the-street neighbors in their living room, unaware that the two families' lives will soon intertwine. While her lawyer husband, Jeremy, works all hours at his high-pressure firm arranging large real estate development deals, lawyer-turned–stay-at-home-mom Nina is going a little nuts. Trapped in her Upper West Side apartment with 3-year-old Max and baby Lily, Nina spends lonely nights watching a couple reading together in what looks like companionable silence in the building across from hers. Then one day, the couple is replaced by a young woman in a leg cast who argues, then makes love with a young man, aware that she is being watched. The young woman is Emma, who has moved back in with her parents—art historian Claudia and therapist Leon—while her broken ankle heals and she decides how to get out of her engagement. Running into Claudia on the street, Nina recognizes her former professor, who never encouraged her. Nina's friend Wendy, who presents herself as a perfect mommy, turns out to be one of Leon's more unhappy patients. Avoiding involvement with his wife and daughter, Leon spends his happiest hours moving his Volvo to obey parking rules. Leon and Nina meet in the neighborhood coffee shop and begin a flirtation. Meanwhile, Jeremy faces a professional crisis that will impact everyone. (The author's previous fictions were explorations of specifically Jewish communities, and while Mirvis makes only passing mention of Jeremy's Orthodox upbringing, there is no mistaking her characters' ethnicity.) It becomes clear that how people appear in the tableaux created by window frames and how they are in real space can be very different. This dark, witty, if slightly overstructured comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacy's limitations.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt

One down and two across, there she was again, a lone woman in the window, pressed close to the glass. For several days, she had been there on and off, standing in front of the window, on crutches, as if wanting to be seen.
   Inside her own apartment, Nina stopped to watch. She was disturbed by the young woman’s presence, proprietary on behalf of the middle-aged couple whom she’d come to expect in that window, reading contentedly on their couch. The couple rarely talked to one another, but neither of them seemed bothered by the silence. Sometimes the husband disappeared from view, returning with two mugs in hand. Occasionally the wife stretched her legs toward her husband and he absent-mindedly grasped one of her feet. But once Nina had looked out as the wife started to walk away and the husband stood and pulled her closer. Caught off guard by the gesture, the woman had nearly stumbled, and to steady her, he pulled her into an embrace. To everyone’s surprise, he twirled her, and for a few minutes before resuming their quiet routine, they had danced.
   Nina’s living room window offered no sweeping city views, no glimpse of the river or the sky, only the ornate prewar building across the street. She and Jeremy had lived in this Upper West Side apartment for five years but still hadn’t gotten around to buying shades. Even though she looked into other people’s windows, she’d convinced herself that no one was, in turn, watching them. With two sleeping kids, she couldn’t leave the apartment, but it was enough to look out at the varieties of other people’s lives. At nine in the evening the windows across the street were like the rows of televisions in an electronics store, all visible at once. Nina’s eyes flickered back and forth, but she inevitably returned to watching the same square, waiting for the couple to reappear, their quiet togetherness stirring her desire to ride out of her apartment into theirs. Hoping to find them there again, hoping that this might be the night in which they looked up from their books, she didn’t move, not until she was pulled away by the scream of a child.
   The interminable cycle of sleeping and waking had begun. In his bedroom, her three-year-old son, Max, was thrashing, yet asleep. His eyes were open but he saw no way out of his nightmare, no path to outrun whatever pursued him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she whispered into Max’s ear, and his crying subsided. An hour later, it was Lily. From the bassinet that was squeezed into her and Jeremy’s bedroom, Nina picked her up to nurse. As soon as Lily latched on, her crying ceased. For the moment, there was nothing more her daughter needed.
   Before either of the kids woke again, Nina went back to the window, hoping to see not just the outrageous or the extraordinary, but any truthful moment of small ordinary. During the day, every feeling came shellacked with protective plastic coating. The only language spoken was certainty. Outwardly, she was reciting the maxims along with everyone else: The kids were always delicious and she wouldn’t miss this for the world, and there was nowhere she’d rather be, and yes, it did go so fast. On the faces of other mothers, Nina sometimes caught the rumblings of discontent, but their inner lives were tucked away. Like theirs, her hands were always occupied, but while she was making dinner or bathing a child, while pushing one of them in a swing, rocking the other to sleep, her thoughts had begun to rove.
   In the window across the way, there was still no sign of the couple reading. Once again, it was the young woman on crutches looking out, and Nina was tempted to wave. But that would end the illusion. Curtains would be pulled shut, lights switched off, the city’s windows suddenly empty and dark. Instead, Nina stayed hidden, and from the shadows, she watched as a young man dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt emerged from another room and joined the young woman. Wide awake for the first time all day, Nina craned her neck, watching as the couple began to argue, their gestures sharp, their bodies taut. The man tried to hug her but the woman wriggled from his grasp, put her hands over her face, shielding herself from what he was saying.
   The woman turned away from the man, but he wasn’t dissuaded by her anger. He came up behind her and pressed against her. He took her crutches from her and she leaned into him as he entangled his hands in her long dark hair, ran his lips down the nape of her neck, cupped her breasts in his hands. Nina felt the woman’s resistance subsiding and she wished there was a way to draw closer to them still.
   Surely they realized they were before an open window; surely that was part of the pleasure. Could they see her breathing their every breath, feeling their every touch? The woman turned around, her back now to Nina, as the man carefully helped her to the couch where he knelt in front of her and pulled down her pants. As their dark clothes unpeeled, giving way to pale flashes of skin, Nina was inside her own body yet inside theirs as well. The woman’s earlier reluctance was gone. She wasn’t held back by her injured foot. Her thin body wriggled out from underneath and she climbed astride him. Her back arched, her body bare, she turned her face to the window, looking directly at the spot where Nina was standing.
   She saw the look of defiance and understood the bold exhibitionist plea. But it was something else that made her want to press herself to the glass pane and move closer still. This woman was trying to let her know, “I see you, I know you are there.” In response, she wanted to reach her hand across and loosen the constraints of her own life as well. The city had cracked momentarily apart, a slivered opening in the larger night. Nina might be home with her kids, another interminable night with Jeremy at work, but she was also outside, part of the thrumming city. Nina waited for the reading couple to emerge from some back room where they’d been hiding and join the younger couple on their couch. She waited to see everyone’s inner thoughts transmitted in flashes of light long and short. For every apartment in every building to light up. For neighbors everywhere to strip down, lay themselves bare. For the couples across the way to raise their windows and invite her in.

Meet the Author

TOVA MIRVIS is the author of  three novels:Visible CityThe Outside World, and The Ladies Auxiliary, a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe Magazine, the Huffington Post, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on NPR. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

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Visible City 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
phyllishoffman More than 1 year ago
This is a multi-layered story of ordinary people who live in an extraordinary city. Mirvis's characters are well drawn and they move the story along brilliantly. I totally enjoyed the read. Phyllis Hoffman
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is ok but the writing is mediocre; some of it forced and awkward. I judge a book by how it moves me. This book didn't; it didn't make me cry or laugh.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Visible City is one of the most boring, dreary books I have ever attempted to read. The concept of the novel is interesting: a lonely, over whelmed young mother watches her New York neighbors through their apartment windows. Over time, the neighbors she is watching become intertwined into her own life. However, the concept is lost in the author's inability to connect the reader with the characters. The people in this novel are bitter, unkind, and unlikeable. I failed to find anything interesting in their whining, self-pitying complaints and trite problems. I did not feel empathy with the characters or curiosity with the story line . The author's point of view and the writing itself is stilted and lacks color and believability. I read half the book and gave up. There are too may worthier books to read. Try Casebook ( Mona Simpson), Family Life (Sharma), or Love and Treasure (Waldman) for books that enchant and enthrall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Visible City, Tova Mirvis explores what happens when anonymity is shattered by visibility in a bustling New York City neighborhood. Her fascinating characters lives intertwine in ways that allow them to explore the cost of sacrificing comfort for intrigue and to ultimately learn as much or more about themselves than they do about their neighbors. Masterfully written and too captivating to put down, Ms. Mirvis' third novel exceeds the high expectations set by her first two works. I highly recommend.