Elinor Lipman's "The View from Penthouse B" is a witty and lighthearted story about New Yorkers struggling with romantic, financial, and emotional issues. Margot is a divorcée whose sleazy former husband, Charles, went to prison after inseminating his fertility patients the old-fashioned way. Making matters worse, Margot invested her life savings with Bernie Madoff, leaving her nearly destitute. Still, she lives in the luxurious Batavia, "an Art Deco apartment building on beautiful West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village."
Sharing the apartment with Margot is her sister, Gwen-Laura, a widow whose husband, Edwin, failed to wake up one morning, a month before turning fifty. The duo is joined by a gay and unemployed boarder named Anthony, a handy person to have around, since he bakes, acts as a computer consultant, and dispenses useful all-around advice. To economize, Margot clips coupons, prepares inexpensive dinners, and looks for free sources of entertainment.
The author casts her sympathetic eye on Margot and Gwen-Laura, both of whom are in a rut. Margot remains bitter towards her treacherous ex and, and more than two years after Edwin's death, Gwen-Laura is still in deep mourning, unable to take even a few baby steps forward. Neither woman works outside the home. Margot has a blog with a pathetically small number of visitors. Gwen-Laura comes up with an idea for a group called "Chaste Dates," for men and women "who desired nothing more than companionship." Unsurprisingly, her concept fails to take off.
This occasionally poignant novel offers belly laughs but little genuine insight into the characters' psyches. Anthony's sister, Olivia, an au pair on the Upper East Side who hooks up with her boss, flits in and out of the narrative, and both Margot and Gwen-Laura find love in unlikely places. The best feature is Lipman's sharp, clever, and caustic dialogue. Had she explored the book's themes of healing, forgiveness, and personal growth in greater depth, Lipman's "The View from Penthouse B" might have been more than an intermittently amusing and satirical romp. (Three and a half stars.)