My thanks go to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for the
review copy. This work of fiction
started out like gangbusters and left me feeling confused in the end. What the
heck is the author’s purpose here?
The premise is that Pepper, the child of hugely wealthy,
influential parents, has left home to live an adult life without her mother’s
interference. She meets a man from a working class background and they fall in
love; they purchase an apartment at the prestigious Chelmsford Arms, and the
ancient chairman invites her to join the building’s board of directors. She
likes Pepper’s pedigree, and the board is comprised entirely of elderly people,
so it’s good to have some fresh perspective. Or so the old lady thinks.
At the outset, I think this will be a satirical poke at the
rich, and as the story unfolds it is on its way to being just that. We see the
building through Pepper’s eyes, and we see it through the eyes of the door men
that work there. The only people of color here are employees, and Pepper’s
effort to create a more diverse community meet a wall of resistance. And Pepper’s
fiancé, whom her parents distrust, turns out to be untrustworthy. There are several places that make me laugh
out loud, and I have high hopes.
But as we move on, the message becomes muddy and the pace
slows considerably. Pepper’s fiancé has his own concerns, and we see things
through his perspective—all points of view are told in the third person omniscient.
Part of the time he seems to be exactly the dirt bag that Pepper’s parents say
that he is, but part of the time he is just a loving, misunderstood guy. Ultimately,
after a plot that goes all over the place with no apparent destination, it is
he that proves to be the most dreadful racist of all of them.
When the board meets, Pepper makes the acquaintance of two
other couples, both of them elderly, and both apparently in content, long-term
marriages, and she believes they will be her role models, since her own parents
are divorced. However, neither couple is happy, and we see their relationships
deteriorate. Indeed, the healthiest relationship she sees is between two of the
doormen, who are closeted at first, but later come out.
None of these characters is developed much, but the one that
seems least credible to me is Sergei, who does a complete turnabout in his
willingness to come out of the closet and be in a public relationship with
Caleb. We don’t see any kind of struggle on his part and the change is abrupt.
Given the importance that Vatner attaches to these two men, I would have
thought we would see much more of Sergei’s perspective leading up to the
The worst part for me is that in the end, all of the
characters seem much more equal to one another, the filthy rich having their
share of misery and the working class being content. Give me a damn break.
Despite this rant, it’s clear that Vatner has talent. There
are several passages that make me sit up and take notice. The challenge he
faces is in creating a bigger picture with better developed characters, and
better pacing. Since this is his debut, he has plenty of time to grow, and I
look forward to seeing what he publishes in the years to come.