High Maintenance

High Maintenance

by Jennifer Belle


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National Bestseller
The story of an obsessive love affair between a woman and an apartment.

The publication of her sexy, offbeat, riotous first novel, Going Down, won Jennifer Belle comparisons from everyone from Dorothy Parker and Lorrie Moore to J. D. Salinger and Liz Phair. In High Maintenance, Belle is back with another brilliantly twisted New York story that is as funny, sad, painful, ridiculous, wild, daring, and lovable as its predecessor.

Set in the manic world of New York real estate, High Maintenance is the story of Liv Kellerman, a young woman who's just left her husband and, more important, their fabulous penthouse apartment with its Empire State Building view. On her own for the first time in her life, she relocates to a crumbling Greenwich Village hovel and contemplates her next move. Before long she finds her true calling: selling real estate. With her native eye for prime properties and an ability to lie with a straight face, Liv finds success and soon is swimming with the sharks-the hardcore, cutthroat brokers who'll do anything to close a deal. Along the way she picks up a maniacally ardent architect who likes to bite her, a few hilarious bosses, strange and exasperating clients, and a gun, and brings them with her on her search for the one thing she's really after: a home.

Belle's gift for creating strange and winning characters and her acute observations of both the absurd and the poignant in everyday life are the hallmarks of her fiction. High Maintenance is generous and unsparing, tough and exciting and terrifically smart—a hot new property on the market.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229302
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/02/2002
Edition description: FIRST
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 740,617
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jennifer Belle is the bestselling author of Going Down (for which she was named best debut novelist of the year by Entertainment Weekly), High Maintenance, and Little Stalker. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Independent (London), Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Ms., Black Book, Mudfish, and many anthologies. She lives in New York City and Olivebridge, New York, with her husband and their two sons.

Read an Excerpt

High Maintenance, Chapter 1


The morning before I was planning to leave my husband, my friend Violet convinced me to go with her to see a swami in someone's townhouse. I was surprised to see that he was an American guy in an orange dress sitting under a real Picasso.

"When we meditate we keep our eyes open," the swami said. I was relieved. I didn't want to sit in a strange room with a bunch of freaks with my eyes closed. "Even when we look deeply inside ourselves, we never stop looking out at the world," he said.

I sat there for forty-five minutes with my eyes open thinking about my situation and looking around the room. It was a beautiful living room, all very upholstered, with stairs behind me that led to a private garden. The woman who owned it, our hostess, had been proudly running around, fluffing pillows and pouring the swami tea. It wasn't as nice as my apartment.

The question was who would be forced to leave the apartment-me or Jack. Jack owned the apartment, and I didn't. Jack could afford the maintenance, and I couldn't without his help. And Jack had announced that the only way he was leaving the apartment was in a pine box.

I didn't want to leave but I refused to be like my mother, a character from a Jacqueline Susann novel complete with gold ankh necklace, turning a blind eye or cheek or whatever it was to her husband's infidelity.

So I would have to be the one to leave. I had spent five years married to a man named Jack. I had hung all my hopes on a man with the name of Jack. As if my life were a roadtrip in a car with flat tires and the most important thing to have was a jack. I had wanted a jack even though I would have no idea how to use one if my life depended on it.

I sat there crying until someone finally hit a tiny gong with a stick and the swami asked if anyone had any questions. I thought about asking if I would ever have love again, but I didn't.

He looked right at me and said, "Yes, you will."

I looked behind me, then back at the swami. "I will what?" I said.

"Get a boyfriend," he said sweetly. Everyone laughed. "As long as you don't get too hysterical about it."

"I wasn't thinking about getting a boyfriend," I said. "I'm a married woman," I added. At least I was for one more day. I felt stupid for thinking about love when I should actually be more concerned about getting a job and an apartment.

"My advice is to keep your overhead low," the swami said.

The girl sitting cross-legged on the floor next to me nodded as if deeply moved. A lot of people were nodding and bursting into tears.

"That's especially important for you," he said to me.

When it was over everyone smiled at me as if I were some kind of meditation celebrity. As if I were the luckiest person to be given the news that I, more than anyone, should keep my overhead low. I felt like I had been given a curse.

Of course Violet never even showed up. I stood there by myself drinking tea and reluctantly hugging people.

"Do you have the time?" I asked a man on the corner when I left the swami.

He extended his arm to raise the sleeve of his suit in a cartoonish gesture and looked at his watch. He told me. I thanked him and began to cross the street, noticing that I actually felt more relaxed and open.

"Get a watch, lady," he mumbled under his breath.

"What?" I said, turning around.

"Get a fucking watch, lady," he said, loudly.

"Nice. Nice. Really nice," I said. It felt exhilarating to have such an intimate fight on the street, even though when I really looked at him I saw he was pimply and didn't look much older than seventeen. People stared. I felt almost wide-awake.

"What do I fucking look like, Big Ben?" he shouted.

I had sat in a strange living room praying for a man to be sent to me. This was something. The swami had already come through. This boy might not be the man I spent the rest of my life with but it was something. A small beginning. I knew from this that I was ready to date again. It was a sort of warm-up.

"You don't look a thing like Big Ben. There's obviously nothing big about you," I said. "What time did you say it was?"

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you," I said, and walked away.

I bought The New York Times and went to a cafe so I could sit there pathetically circling things like everyone else. I tried to think of what I could do.

I didn't know what I had been thinking ending up in a cafe at twenty-six with no skills or education. I had gone to NYU for eight days and hated every minute of it. I went the first Monday through Friday, had the weekend off, went back Monday, Tuesday, and dropped out at the end of Wednesday. That's where I met Violet. My father had offered to get me a suite at the Plaza Hotel complete with room service, which was his idea of an apartment, but I had decided to live in a dorm because I wanted to feel like a normal person, and Violet was my roommate. For eight days, I had to overhear her on the phone crying to her parents in Texas that she had fallen off a curb and broken her ankle and that all New Yorkers were the ugliest, thickest-lipped people she had ever seen.

That comment always stayed in my mind. I had always thought it was good to have voluptuous lips. Her lips were the only things about her that weren't thick. But she was my roommate, my college roommate, and I loved the idea of that. I admired women who stayed friends with their college roommates and had them as bridesmaids at their weddings. I spent eight days bringing her trays of food because she was on crutches and trying to find charm in the fact that she had never seen a Woody Allen movie.

Then I met Jack in an elevator at the Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street. I was looking into changing my name after the New York Post ran a blind item about my father on Page Six ("What famous clothing designer was caught with a transvestite prostitute in Riverside Park and punched out a police officer?"), and we got married two years later. After that it always seemed like there was so much to do. The five years just flew by. First of all, we went to his country house every single weekend and that time didn't even count because we weren't in New York. As soon as we hit the Saw Mill it just wasn't my life anymore. There was no sex, no fun, no friends. The most I could hope for was the occasional movie or antique. All I did was listen to the teenage daughter of our closest neighbor talk about all the different places she managed to have sex with her boyfriend without her parents knowing, while I spread jam on saltines in the kitchen, and my husband took naps alternating between the two white couches on the screened-in porch. And then, Mondays through Fridays back in the city, my husband always needed me to do things like buy a chrome orange juicer or interview maids. But at least I hadn't relied on my parents.

Now I couldn't think of anything I could do. I felt a new sense of abandonment, beyond my usual sense of abandonment. It made my old sense of abandonment feel like child's play. I was no longer the house that Jack built. I sat in the cafe reading the paper. The only thing I seemed to remember how to do was read. I knew how to read, although I hadn't learned until I was pretty old, seven. But at least I had learned. I looked to see if there were any jobs for readers.

—Reprinted from High Maintenance by Jennifer Belle by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Jennifer Belle. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


"A hilarious take on the search for real estate as a metaphor for finding a life."
The Boston Globe

"An outrageous, hilarious account of one woman's journey to find herself, the 'Loft of her Life' and a man worthy of sharing apartment space in New York City...High Maintenance is in turn a wicked and twisted coming-of-age-in-the-city story, an uproariously funny tale of the little girl lost and a scathing parody of the narcissism of New York living."
The Tampa Tribune

"Addictive and captivating...The same wisecracking, fierce yet vulnerable point of view that made Going Down so special is taken even further in High Maintenance."
Time Out New York

"Just buy the damn book."
The New York Observer

"Looking for a good laugh? Enter the world of 26-year-old Liv Kellerman...Her nutty sagas will have you rolling on the floor."

"A stylish, funny, set-in-Manhattan story about a woman who leaves her husband and misses their apartment more than him...Belle's unpretentious humor and clean prose style are in an entirely different neighborhood than your average single-in-the-city author."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Satisfying. Even non-New Yorkers will be sucked in as Liv navigates her way through heartache and the city."

"Fans of Bridget Jones's Diary will find Jennifer Belle's send-up of all things New York, High Maintenance, sharp, incisive and laugh-out-loud funny...A gal, a gun and a gorgeous apartment all combine for an explosive denouement...Read this witty book."
The Baltimore Sun

"Hugely funny."
New York Daily News

"Reminiscent of...fiction's infamous singleton Bridget Jones...Liv's wackiness give this unruly novel moments of great humor, but in the end the book is as much about the peculiar landscape of the New York housing market—the snooty upper-class clients and the real estate agents who kowtow to them—as it is about a young woman finding her own independence."
The Washington Post Book World

"Belle deftly mines real estate as a metaphor, especially in Liv's affair with an impulsive architect, and her clients and fellow brokers are both terrifying and hilarious by turns."
Entertainment Weekly

"In this latest New York romp...Belle draws both Liv and the idiosyncrasies of the Manhattan real estate market so well that one can't help wondering just what is fiction (Belle did a stint as a broker herself) and what may be biography...Belle's skewed take on life in the big city keeps the smirk-per-page ratio high...offbeat observations...hilarity and pathos."
The Denver Post

"[An] amusing...humorous real-estate romp with Manhattan views."
US Weekly

"If you think the Hub housing market is tough, take a look at this tale of high-stakes real estate—and sexual-wheeling and dealing. Belle knows the world she depicts."
The Boston Herald

"Like a hot fudge sundae...delicious."

"You'll feel right at home with Belle's...follow-up to her racy debut, Going Down."

"Brimming with Gotham references, weird but lovable characters and typical urban scenes, [High Maintenance] is a witty and engaging tale of love and real estate in Manhattan...Belle's tongue-in-cheek style and laugh-out-loud antics keep the pages turning...fresh and invigorating."
Publishers Weekly

"With deadpan wit and brutal sarcasm, Belle paints an unforgiving portrait of New Yorkers and idiosyncratic behaviors, which, in their context, have come to be regarded as normal. Capturing a chorus of vastly different voices with skill, while making outrageous happenings seem utterly mundane, Belle has created a wonderfully engrossing plot and a fresh and funny heroine...If Going Down was a promise made by a debut novelist, then High Maintenance is its fulfillment—sharp, insightful, as harsh and gritty as the city itself, but irresistible for its uniqueness, charisma and charm."
The Tampa Tribune

"This work continues in the same tradition of Belle's highly praised first novel, Going Down, with equal parts hilarity and pain...in turns funny and poignant."
Library Journal

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