book review: Visible City

visible city

Visible City by Tova Mirvis. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 2014). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 256 pages. ISBN13: 9780544047747.

In Visible City, Author Tova Mirvis writes with a melancholy gorgeousness about connectivity and disparity. When we imagine others’ lives we never expect what we eventually discover to be true. Perfection masks insecurities. Contentment hides dissatisfaction. What is happiness? Our ideal is never another’s ideal. How something looks from afar rarely looks as virtuous once you start to delve into the grit and imperfections.

The lives of three couples unexpectedly intersect in New York City.A young mother, Nina, watches the neighbors with her young son’s Fisher-Price binoculars. She imagines their perfect lives and how different they are from hers. As she gazes upon the older couple in the building across from hers she’s jealous at their seemingly contented existence as they read together on the couch. Another night she see a young couple engaging in passionate sex. Who are these people she wonders? As the weeks pass she ends up meeting her neighbors out on the streets in the neighborhood. Boundaries get crossed, intimacies shared and nothing’s the same again. No longer able to hide in their respective apartments, these people begin to reveal their true selves to varying degrees. Veneers stripped away, insecurities magnified and they all begin questioning their life choices.

Nina gave up being a lawyer when she had children but she never particularly enjoyed being an attorney. Her husband’s also an attorney. They met in law school. Lately he’s been interested in anything but the law. They rarely talk about it. Claudia’s been working on a book about a little-known stained glass artist for years. [“For years after, she had floated from college to college, holding various adjunct positions, always carrying with her the taste of failure.”] Her daughter Emma doesn’t think she wants to be in grad school anymore but is afraid to disappoint her mother. [“In the past, she had flitted from one passion to another; she might not have known what she wanted to do, but she hadn’t worried about it. The world was filled with possibilities, especially when you had parents who trusted every decision you made and were willing to support you through any adventure.”] Claudia’s husband and Emma’s father Leon is a therapist but can talk to his patients better than to his own wife and daughter.

Mirvis describes New York in wide angles and intricate details with a vibrant palate and consideration for its nuances. Exemplary writing. Lovely turns of phrases that make you pause to appreciate certain sentences such as: “He would live as most people did, perched between acceptance and resignation.” She writes fascinating, memorable (not always likeable) characters. She doesn’t seem compelled to write merely about the contented, satisfied and faultless. She can write beautifully about failures, near misses, regrets and second choices. Truly a wonderful novel.

RATING: *****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from HMH.

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