Twelve Rooms with a View: A Novel
by Theresa Rebeck
Shaye Areheart Books
List Price: $24.99; Amazon Price: $16.49
[Ed note: I recently started a weekly book review column in Dan’s Paper’s. I’ll post my review here as a well.]
New York City apartment owners might recognize their neighbors, co-op board members, or even themselves in Twelve Rooms with a View, the second novel by playwright and screenwriter Theresa Rebeck, who takes a vicious, but amusing look at Manhattan’s cutthroat real estate market.
Narrated by the main character, Tina Finn, Twelve Rooms opens at a funeral where Tina and her sisters, Lucy and Alison, suddenly discover they’ve inherited from their alcoholic mother the famous 12-room Livingston Mansion Apartment (supposedly valued at $11 million) located at the historic Edgewood Building on the Upper West Side.
Tina is persuaded by her socially ambitious sister Lucy to move into the apartment to stake their claim. Soon afterwards the hapless younger sister finds herself caught in the middle of an all out real estate war between members of the co-op board who want to evict Tina, and in an acrimonious legal battle with the two sons of her mother’s second husband, Bill, who dispute the sisters’ inheritance.
Wanting to play nice and sway the co-op board members to her side, Tina befriends Len a conniving and duplicitous botanist; Vince, the flirtatious son of the co-op board president; and Jennifer, the depressed teenage daughter of one of the board members, who becomes Tina’s eyes and ears during the eviction process. In the meantime, Tina also deals with Lucy’s bossy demands on how to behave.
Rebeck’s marvelously captures the conflict and tension between Tina and Lucy, a manipulative public relations executive whose sole ambition is to sell the apartment in a down market. Tina aptly describes her unhappy sister:
She smiled grimly, as if she found it satisfactory to hear me “okay,” but she didn’t look satisfied. She looked like her suit was too tight and she wasn’t eating enough red meat and her shoes hurt. She had gray smudges under her eyes, and her hair was pulled back in a bun, which was an extremely bad look for her, and usually she knew better than to try it. Her mouth was pinched together, bitter and worried, and for the first time I saw what Vince had seen instantly under the skin of my smart, ferocious sister: an old schoolmarm in a rage because the world had overlooked her.
Even when Tina offers a solution to stop a potential lawsuit over the apartment, Rebeck skillfully conveys Lucy’s disrespect for her younger sister’s suggestion:
“Hey Lucy,” I said feeling completely awful all of a sudden. “No kidding, Lucy. Maybe we could just offer to split it with them. Even split five ways, we’ll all end up with a ton of money. Has anyone offered a split?”
“I don’t believe that’s been discussed, no,” she said, with a kind of infantile brightness that had yet another sneer behind it.
“Yeah, I guess that’s pretty stupid,” I said. “Sorry. ‘Compromise.’ What a boneheaded idea.”
“You said it, not me,” she murmured under her breath.
She left. And I decided to stop asking questions nobody had any answers for anyway and just let things happen.
Subplots abound in Twelve Rooms, and include a cast of characters like the battling brothers, Pete and Doug, who want their childhood home and harbor a secret about their mother-the apartment’s original owner; the eccentric botanist neighbor, Len, who rents out Tina’s kitchen for his moss garden and has a tumultuous relationship with his daughter Charlotte; the snobbish Mrs. Gideon who aggressively campaigns for Tina’s eviction; and the harried and put upon Hispanic doorman Frank who is hopelessly in love with the sweet and beautiful Julianna Gideon; and even a ghost gets a little playtime. The problem with all these ancillary storylines is that we’re getting them all from Tina’s limited perspective and many questions that come up, go unanswered.
Twelve Rooms with a View ultimately comes to a satisfactory, but somewhat rushed conclusion. It’s almost as if Rebeck suddenly realized or was reminded that she needed to neatly tie up the subplots and give readers closure. Although many of the events that occur are highly exaggerated, there is a very big grain of truth in New York’s vicious world of real estate. Maybe renting isn’t such a bad idea after all.