Widow Gwen-Laura Schmidt is still grieving for her husband Edwin when she joins her older sister Margot in her West Village penthouse apartment in the Batavia. Gwen-Laura, the narrator of Elinor Lipman’s latest novel “The View from Penthouse B” explains right at the start that:
This arrangement has made a great deal of sense for us both: I lost my husband without warning, and Margot lost her entire life’s savings to the Ponzi schemer whose name we dare not speak.
Though we call ourselves roommates, we are definitely more than that, something on the order of wartime trenchmates. She refers to me fondly as her boarder – ironic, of course, because no one confuses a boarding house with an apartment reached via an elevator button marked PH. In a sense, we live in both luxury and poverty, looking out over the Hudson while stretching the contents of tureens of stews and soups that Margot cooks expertly and cheerfully.
Margot, divorced from Dr. Charles Pierrepont, an ob/gyn whose all-too-personal infertility treatments landed him in jail, invites twenty-something, cupcake-baking, and definitely gay Anthony to board with them. “He also exhibited something of which we were in short supply lately: a sense of humor.”
When Charles is paroled, and takes a small apartment on a lower floor of the Batavia, complications ensue.
While “The View from Penthouse B” is inspired in part by Lipman’s own untimely widowhood, it is the literary equivalent of a Woody Allen movie. The characters are broadly drawn. The dialogue is snappy and clever. What could become farcical in the hands of a less assured writer remains humorous, entertaining, and – yes – poignant.
It’s been more than two years since Gwen-Laura was widowed. Margot, Anthony, and her younger sister Betsy urge her to date. Reluctantly, she agrees:
It was still early, but I knew this night was not going to widen my social circle or yield new friends. It was then that I decided I would venture outside the building. Maybe such outreach would prove fruitful; maybe in this vast city of allegedly lonely people there was someone waiting for the Gwen-Laura I used to be.
From an online dating seminar to placing a rather timid ad in – of course! – “The New York Review of Books,” Gwen-Laura begins looking for modern love. For someone who had been married for decades, navigating Craigslist and the like is a daunting – and hugely comedic – prospect.
Lipman writes with panache and a deft, breezy confidence. Readers will root for Gwen and Margot, who is struggling to restore her relationship with Charles. They are, after all, “Two eligible women in the most exciting city in the world. Two dames on the verge of . . . something.”
“The View from Penthouse B” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.