15 Years of Summer Reading
Love and the City: Morningside Heights is a sprawling, old-fashioned novel of urban entanglements.
Morningside Heights, the setting of Cheryl Mendelson's rich, romantic novel of that title, is an actual neighborhood of Manhattan's Upper West Side. I lived there for more years than I care to say, so the book held a special fascination at first, an affirmation of some of my most intimately known local truths. But soon enough, the entire urban wash faded to the background in favor of a world peopled with emotionally intriguing characters: Anne Braithwaite, her husband, Charles, and their three children, financially and spiritually near wit’s end; Anne's old friend Merrit, a beautiful, successful academic writer who, approaching 40, realizes she might never find the lasting form of love she'd forgotten until too late to long for; Charles's friend Morris, in his early 40s, a seemingly permanent bachelor-scientist and curmudgeonly critic of all that passes before his eyes; and Lily, the 27-year-old psychotherapist who charms Morris and becomes engaged to him. There are ancillary characters, priests, lawyers, and the like, on whom much of the detailed but never overwhelming plot rests, and their roles help Mendelson create a stage akin to those of Jane Austen and George Eliot, the great 19th century novelists who made palpable all the details of money and real estate and gesture and expectation that we call society. Like them, Mendelson goes on to expose, to our deep satisfaction, the precise links in that system that join together artifice, neurosis, morality, and love.