24 Books to Pick Up This September

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd

The Affairs of Others

304 pages; Picador
For first-time novelist Amy Grace Loyd, an apartment building is not simply housing. It is also a metaphor for the paradoxical isolation and proximity we feel among others, especially in congested urban settings. In a bid for the order she craves, Celia, the young widowed narrator of The Affairs of Others, has bought a subdivided Brooklyn brownstone and serves as its live-in landlady. Prudent Celia selects unobtrusive tenants, most of whose best years, like hers, seem largely behind them: a retired ferry captain, a single schoolteacher, a humorless activist. But their neatly compartmentalized existence is destabilized when, against her better judgment, Celia allows the teacher to sublet his flat to an unnervingly beautiful woman with the fraught name of Hope. Hope's disorderly, highly sexualized presence "rattle[s]" the "bones of the place." The captain disappears, the activist's husband bolts, and Celia rouses herself from her melancholic, tranquilizer-fueled reveries and begins snooping through her tenants' apartments, "jeopardizing the privacy that is so a city like ours." Celia proves an unapologetic voyeur, hardly the paragon of abstemious bereavement she appeared to be. Under the spell of Hope, the once cloister-like building becomes the setting for messy scenes of lust, animalistic acts of violence, and eruptions of abundance and contentment. With forceful, sensual prose (the author is captivated by the scents of people and places), Loyd allows Celia to discover that "life had as many gains as losses as long as we were willing to tally them."
— Amy Fine Collins