Eighties New York springs to gritty, vibrant life in this piercingly romantic and compulsively listenable coming-of-age novel. A beautiful, sad, funny, altogether bewitching debut.
Francesca "Chess" Varani is an ultra-bright, sassy, but vulnerable Barnard freshwoman from a blue-collar background in the vibrantly gritty New York City of the mid-'80s. She strikes up a volatile and somewhat toxic friendship with drama-queen classmate Kendra Marr-Löwenstein and falls into the bewitching orbit of her Salingeresque, high-toned family. Upon graduation she moves into the Marr-Löwenstein house in the West Village as a secretary/girl-of-all-work to the soignèe literary intellectual Clarice Marr (think Susan Sontag but blondly coiffed and dressed in Chanel) and receives the sentimental education and emotional roughing up New York bestows on all of its new arrivals - including a love affair with Clarice's glamorously damaged son, Jerry.
The story is related by Chess in sadder but wiser fashion from the distance of a financially beset 2008 and the depths of a crap job taken of necessity, tinged with the poignancy of time and choices made and not made.