Celia Cassill, widowed young but left “comfortably provided,” has promised herself that she will live life for her dead husband. Curiously, she does so by investing in an apartment building in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. She lives there on the ground floor, and rents out the three apartments upstairs. Despite her promise Celia has held herself remote from life, and she chooses her tenants carefully, picking people who are unlikely to disturb each other. Or her. The second floor tenant, George, an English teacher at St. Ann’s School, is quiet and considerate. Captain Coughlan, a retired ferry captain, lives on the top floor, and the Braunsteins on the third floor.
Celia – the book is a first-person narrative – may be removed, but she is not remote. Celia keeps an eye on Captain Coughlan, occasionally providing food and company. Celia is generous and warm with Captain Coughlan, at just the right level for the independent old man. Celia is aware of the Braunsteins’ comings and goings, (especially Mrs. Braunstein’s: she adopts one cause after another). Celia is the captain of this quiet ship, cleaning the hallways when her cleaning lady doesn’t show up, and keeping the building running.
Everything changes when Celia allows George, the first-floor tenant, to sublet his apartment. The new resident, Hope, is in the midst of a divorce and has moved from a brownstone a few blocks away. When George throws a party to welcome her, Celia is drawn back into the world, meeting George’s friends and Hope’s adult children. They engage her in a way that interests her more than her usual recreation: sparingly allowing herself to enjoy mementoes of her husband and their life together.
In her grief, Celia has forgotten that everyone has secrets. When Captain Coughlan goes missing, Celia rides the ferry and connects with strangers well enough to reassure her, if not his daughter, that all is well with him. Celia enters Captain Coughlan’s apartment when his daughter has called, worried. But that doesn’t mean that she has any reason to enter the other two apartments, or to snoop the way she does.
Yet it’s poking around in her tenants’ secrets that brings Celia back to life. Along the way, Loyd explores parent and child relationships – Hope’s with her son and daughter, and Captain Coughlan’s with his daughter. Loyd also ventures into what might be called transgressive sexuality, Hope’s at first, and then Celia’s own. It’s an interesting voyage, though one that Celia’s own secret is perhaps too light to balance. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.
Heather Quinlan’s related post is here.
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