cover image No Lease on Life

No Lease on Life

Lynne Tillman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100272-6

New Yorker Elizabeth Hall's thoughts are dominated by the things that annoy her: ""fools, landlords, enemies, and junkies""--and they're just a start. In Tillman's (Haunted Houses) awkward day-in-the-life amble, such irritants as people who take up two seats on the subway and postal clerks with long fingernails make up the body of the tale, along with the various complaints that Elizabeth lodges to correct them. But from page one, when we first meet Elizabeth sitting at the window of her East Village apartment at 5 a.m. spinning gruesome revenge fantasies about the noisy hoodlums in the street, the futility of her crusade is obvious. Luckily, Elizabeth has interesting neighbors (a decrepit Swiss woman who is convinced she is being tailed by police from her native land, a homeless man who goes on about the kindness of his friends, a young addicted prostitute), and their unusual voices and vivid stories enliven Tillman's otherwise spare, occasionally monotonous prose. Elizabeth seems unchanged by the real hardships suffered by the people living in her low-rent neighborhood: by the novel's end, she's back at the window, furious (and now throwing eggs) at those making a racket in the street. The farcical circularity of Elizabeth's woes is, of course, the point, although Tillman's attitude toward Elizabeth remains a mystery. Lacking a strong narrative drive or a sympathetic protagonist, this novel is nonetheless graced by flashes of bilious wit, a series of funny, inconsequential jokes and an appealingly loopy milieu. Rights: Joy Harris Agency. (Jan.)