The architecture of old New York plays a major role in this clever novel, the fate of a grand apartment at stake when the mother of three dies, bequeathing the property to her daughters, Lucy, Alison and Trina Finn. But this widow is a second wife, her deceased husband leaving two male heirs with their own claims on this valuable real estate. The Edgewood is the grandest of Manhattan apartments, built in 1876 and coveted by New York elites with no tolerance for interlopers without proper pedigree: "The building gets to stay. And the building wants you out." That is the clear message to thirty-two-year old Tina, the sister optioned to stay in the apartment until the legal issues are resolved. Tina's adventures in the rarified society of Central Park West are the focus of a tale of sibling rivalry and family dysfunction, a multi-million dollar prize at stake. With that kind of money on the table, there is no end to motives, legal or not.
While the interior of this luxurious apartment has fallen into terrible disrepair, Tina falls helplessly in love with its sense of history, regretting the lack of communication with her mother, or the reclusive man who offered marriage and shelter to a lonely woman. A rude awakening in the middle of the night by the drunk and furious Doug and Pete Drinan gives Tina a sample of the chaos to come, the brothers outraged that she and her sisters have laid claim to what they consider their birthright. Aside from the raging brothers, the building itself is filled with eccentric characters, a suave playboy, a plant collector who has rented space in the apartment to grow a luxurious carpet of moss, a wealthy but reclusive neighbor who harbors a terrible secret of her own and a determined co-op board that disdains any of the heirs' claims. The one ray of sunshine is an unexpected friendship with the wild private school-educated daughters who live on the floor above Tina, the girls' curiosity far outweighing their sense of entitlement.
With wry humor and tragicomedic revelations, Rebeck makes sense of this crazy quilt of eccentrics and claimants to an extraordinary piece of New York history, Tina putting a human face to family conflicts and the perils of trying to fit in where you don't belong. Scrappy and rebellious, Tina locks horns with Pete Drinan, a New York police detective, confronts the authoritarian demands of her own sister, Lucy, and slowly ferrets out the building's darkest secrets. The result is a surprisingly poignant mix of humor and tragedy, the best of motives undermined by greed and desperation, packed in a very satisfying novel. Luan Gaines/2010.