Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Visible City

by Tova Mirvis

For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Allegra Goodman, an intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change

Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544047747
ISBN-10: 0544047745
Pages: 256
Publication Date: 03/18/2014
Carton Quantity: 12

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For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Allegra Goodman, an intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change.

Nina is a harried young mother who spends her evenings spying on the older couple across the street through her son’s Fisher-Price binoculars. She is drawn to their quiet contentment—reading on the couch, massaging each other’s feet—so unlike her own lonely, chaotic world of nursing and soothing and simply getting by. One night, through that same window, she spies a young couple in the throes of passion. Who are these people, and what happened to her symbol of domestic bliss?

In the coming weeks, Nina encounters the older couple, Leon and Claudia, their daughter Emma and her fiancé, and many others on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood, eroding the safe distance of her secret vigils. Soon anonymity gives way to different—and sometimes dangerous—forms of intimacy, and Nina and her neighbors each begin to question their own paths.

With enormous empathy and a keen observational eye, Tova Mirvis introduces a constellation of characters we all know: twenty-somethings unsure about commitments they haven’t yet made; thirty-somethings unsure about the ones they have; and sixty-somethings whose empty nest causes all sorts of doubt. Visible City invites us to examine those all-important forks in the road, and the conflict between desire and loyalty.

Subjects

Literary

Related Subjects

Literature
Fiction

Additional Assets

Tova Mirvis

Tova Mirvis is the author of The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center and is a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fiction Fellowship. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children. Read More


Other Books By The Author


One down and two across, there she was again, a lone woman in the window, pressed close to the glass. For several days, she had been there on and off, standing in front of the window, on crutches, as if wanting to be seen.

   Inside her own apartment, Nina stopped to watch. She was disturbed by the young woman’s presence, proprietary on behalf of the middle-aged couple whom she’d come to expect in that window, reading contentedly on their couch. The couple rarely talked to one another, but neither of them seemed bothered by the silence. Sometimes the husband disappeared from view, returning with two mugs in hand. Occasionally the wife stretched her legs toward her husband and he absent-mindedly grasped one of her feet. But once Nina had looked out as the wife started to walk away and the husband stood and pulled her closer. Caught off guard by the gesture, the woman had nearly stumbled, and to steady her, he pulled her into an embrace. To everyone’s surprise, he twirled her, and for a few minutes before resuming their quiet routine, they had danced.

   Nina’s living room window offered no sweeping city views, no glimpse of the river or the sky, only the ornate prewar building across the street. She and Jeremy had lived in this Upper West Side apartment for five years but still hadn’t gotten around to buying shades. Even though she looked into other people’s windows, she’d convinced herself that no one was, in turn, watching them. With two sleeping kids, she couldn’t leave the apartment, but it was enough to look out at the varieties of other people’s lives. At nine in the evening the windows across the street were like the rows of televisions in an electronics store, all visible at once. Nina’s eyes flickered back and forth, but she inevitably returned to watching the same square, waiting for the couple to reappear, their quiet togetherness stirring her desire to ride out of her apartment into theirs. Hoping to find them there again, hoping that this might be the night in which they looked up from their books, she didn’t move, not until she was pulled away by the scream of a child.

   The interminable cycle of sleeping and waking had begun. In his bedroom, her three-year-old son, Max, was thrashing, yet asleep. His eyes were open but he saw no way out of his nightmare, no path to outrun whatever pursued him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she whispered into Max’s ear, and his crying subsided. An hour later, it was Lily. From the bassinet that was squeezed into her and Jeremy’s bedroom, Nina picked her up to nurse. As soon as Lily latched on, her crying ceased. For the moment, there was nothing more her daughter needed.

   Before either of the kids woke again, Nina went back to the window, hoping to see not just the outrageous or the extraordinary, but any truthful moment of small ordinary. During the day, every feeling came shellacked with protective plastic coating. The only language spoken was certainty. Outwardly, she was reciting the maxims along with everyone else: The kids were always delicious and she wouldn’t miss this for the world, and there was nowhere she’d rather be, and yes, it did go so fast. On the faces of other mothers, Nina sometimes caught the rumblings of discontent, but their inner lives were tucked away. Like theirs, her hands were always occupied, but while she was making dinner or bathing a child, while pushing one of them in a swing, rocking the other to sleep, her thoughts had begun to rove.

   In the window across the way, there was still no sign of the couple reading. Once again, it was the young woman on crutches looking out, and Nina was tempted to wave. But that would end the illusion. Curtains would be pulled shut, lights switched off, the city’s windows suddenly empty and dark. Instead, Nina stayed hidden, and from the shadows, she watched as a young man dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt emerged from another room and joined the young woman. Wide awake for the first time all day, Nina craned her neck, watching as the couple began to argue, their gestures sharp, their bodies taut. The man tried to hug her but the woman wriggled from his grasp, put her hands over her face, shielding herself from what he was saying.

   The woman turned away from the man, but he wasn’t dissuaded by her anger. He came up behind her and pressed against her. He took her crutches from her and she leaned into him as he entangled his hands in her long dark hair, ran his lips down the nape of her neck, cupped her breasts in his hands. Nina felt the woman’s resistance subsiding and she wished there was a way to draw closer to them still.

   Surely they realized they were before an open window; surely that was part of the pleasure. Could they see her breathing their every breath, feeling their every touch? The woman turned around, her back now to Nina, as the man carefully helped her to the couch where he knelt in front of her and pulled down her pants. As their dark clothes unpeeled, giving way to pale flashes of skin, Nina was inside her own body yet inside theirs as well. The woman’s earlier reluctance was gone. She wasn’t held back by her injured foot. Her thin body wriggled out from underneath and she climbed astride him. Her back arched, her body bare, she turned her face to the window, looking directly at the spot where Nina was standing.

   She saw the look of defiance and understood the bold exhibitionist plea. But it was something else that made her want to press herself to the glass pane and move closer still. This woman was trying to let her know, “I see you, I know you are there.” In response, she wanted to reach her hand across and loosen the constraints of her own life as well. The city had cracked momentarily apart, a slivered opening in the larger night. Nina might be home with her kids, another interminable night with Jeremy at work, but she was also outside, part of the thrumming city. Nina waited for the reading couple to emerge from some back room where they’d been hiding and join the younger couple on their couch. She waited to see everyone’s inner thoughts transmitted in flashes of light long and short. For every apartment in every building to light up. For neighbors everywhere to strip down, lay themselves bare. For the couples across the way to raise their windows and invite her in.

"In a glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life, a lonely New York City woman uses her son’s toy binoculars to spy on couples whose intimacy she craves." - O, The Oprah Magazine

"Dark, witty...[This] comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacy’s limitations." — Kirkus

"Mirvis focuses her artful prose on the inner lives of modern women and those they love as they face the possibilities of change." - Booklist

"Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers...In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvis elicits the reader’s sympathy for her characters’ conflicting desires." —Publishers Weekly

"Such is Mirvis's finesse and insight that she leaves the reader completely sympathetic with each character's dilemmas…Visible City is a beautifully rendered novel that takes on art, parenting, betrayal and the nature of love.” —Shelf Awareness

"Charming...readers’ curiosity will be piqued." — BookPage

“With artful tenderness and elegant compassion, Tova Mirvis strips her upscale Manhattanites down to their naked loneliness and longings. Her novel is as jewel-like as a stained glass window. Mirvis supplies the light, and the result is dazzling.”—Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur award-winning author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

“A fascinating maze of a novel, following the intersecting lives of two New York families as they come together and fall apart. Gorgeously written and enormously wise on the subjects of art, ambition, parenting, betrayal, and what it means to take care of the ones you love.”  —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family

“Here the hidden is made stunningly visible. One by one, facades are stripped away and the luminous interiors of strangers' lives begin to emerge: in the view-field of a sleepless woman's binoculars, in the flashlight beams of subterranean urban explorers, in the radiance filtering through a long-lost stained glass window, and, always, in the light of Tova Mirvis's kaleidoscopic, tender vision. Visible City illuminates the hearts of both its characters and its readers.”—Rachel Kadish, author of Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story

Visible City reminds us how strangers become intimates and intimates grow estranged. Mirvis writes with passion and unflinching honesty about the small grievances that accumulate until we no longer know the people we love.”—Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

Praise for the work of Tova Mirvis:

“Full of verve and chutzpah.”
New York Times Book Review

“Poignant, funny, sophisticated.”
Mademoiselle