Greed, sibling rivalry and generational dysfunction are at the heart of this clever, entertaining exploration of family dynamics, a game of chess in which the author moves her pieces in unexpected ways, exposing the duplicity of human nature at every turn and a young woman’s yearning to belong no matter how high the cost. The star of the novel is an historical apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, much-coveted by the co-op board and the heirs - a multi-million dollar prize.
Rebeck deftly illustrates that people will do anything when millions are at stake, the apartment the source of class conflict and a legal system that profits neatly from the bitter rivalries born of death and property. When their widowed mother dies, daughters Lucy, Alison and Tina Finn are the beneficiaries of a will that names them as heirs to the building in spite of the demands of the brothers Drinan, whose father married the girls’ mother after the death of his first wife, the legitimate Livingston heir of the property.
Hoping to establish precedence through occupation, the sisters persuade Tina, thirty-two and the one with fewest responsibilities, to live in the apartment until the legal issues are resolved. A miracle of gothic Victorian design, the cathedral ceilings and marble entryway lead to a spacious interior of many rooms and two kitchens, one of which has been rented to the penthouse apartment resident for growing masses of luxurious delicate moss. Tina is enchanted despite the disrepair and lack of furniture; even the moss seems exotic. A sense of history abounds, as do the eccentric characters who inhabit the building, wealthy residents who feel that any of the new heirs are intruders who will ruin their pristine environment: “The building gets to say. And the building wants you out.”
While Lucy prepares to put the apartment on the market, Tina endeavors to make friends with the board members in hopes of influencing their votes only to be assailed on all sides, including an intrusion the first night by Doug and Pete Drinan, who drunkenly demand she vacate the premises immediately. Scrappy Tina takes exception to the behavior of the Drinans as well as that of her bossy sister, her small, temporary island of security invaded by the demands of others. It is Tina who uncovers the secrets hiding in the building, probing the activities of the eccentrics who watch her behind keyholes: a suave bachelor; the penthouse plant enthusiast, who worries that Tina isn’t properly caring for his moss; the six rowdy private school sisters whose curiosity overcomes their class-consciousness; a doorman with troubles of his own; and a beautiful young woman with a controlling mother, perhaps even a ghost.
An unusual and inventive adventure that takes place behind the façade of New York’s high society, Tina’s sojourn in the Edgewood reveals the many faces of family dysfunction, the trials of sibling rivalry, the unexpected places where love resides and the ruthlessness of those who covet this great prize: “I couldn’t stand these people and I couldn’t get enough of them.” The stories in this building are poignant, tragic and complex, Tina the catalyst for shocking revelations and dark secrets, for poisonous relationships and unexpected forgiveness. Whether money and property can purchase happiness or not, Tina is the beneficiary of her experience, discovering the value of integrity and the price of belonging in the world.