cover image The Party Upstairs

The Party Upstairs

Lee Conell. Penguin Press, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9848-8027-7

Conell’s smashing debut creates a vivacious microcosm of life inside a tony Manhattan co-op building, where middle-aged Martin, the super, lives with his wife and daughter, Ruby, in the basement. Ruby, 24, moves back in with her parents after her art history degree fails to land her a job, and John, her boyfriend, breaks up with her. Ruby was raised in the building along with her best friend, Caroline, whose wealthy family lives in the penthouse. As children, the girls played games like “Holocaust-orphans-sisters-survivors,” and didn’t notice the differences in their social classes. They remained best friends as they got older despite Ruby’s growing discomfort over Caroline’s economic advantages, a conflict mirrored in the tension shown in flashbacks with Ruby and John, whom she saw as a “rich boy with family money who displayed his paltry do-gooder paycheck as a badge of integrity.” Ruby now aspires to build a diorama of her building and its residents for the Museum of Natural History. Meanwhile, memories of Lily, an eccentric and beloved neighbor, haunt Martin after he finds her dead in her apartment. Lily speaks to Martin vividly and torments the already anxious super. The story culminates at a party in the penthouse, where Ruby’s recent disdain for her friend pushes her to an act that changes the course of all their lives. Conell’s talent for storytelling, wicked sense of humor, and compassion for her characters will leave readers eager for her next book. (July)