Alternate Side

Alternate Side

by Anna Quindlen

Overview: Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. The owners watch one another’s children grow up. They use the same handyman. They trade gossip and gripes, and they maneuver for the ultimate status symbol: a spot in the block’s small parking lot.

Then one morning, Nora returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the enviable dead-end block turns into a potent symbol of a divided city. The fault lines begin to open: on the block, at Nora’s job, especially in her marriage. With an acute eye that captures the snap crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

Faith Bowers (06/30/18): Ms. Quindlen is a contemporary writer of my generation and I have finished all but one (her memoir) of her books. Alternate Side is about an upper echelon NYC block of residents. She is writing about one family who moved to this brownstone dead end block to raise their children when they both earned enough. Ms. Quindlen pokes fun of the values of this rich neighborhood by inserting quirky neighbors and the handyman that everyone needs and must use. She develops the main character and her family life but all others are a back drop to the story of changing lives as her children reach an independent age. I enjoy all her books as they are well written good stories and since I truly enjoy visiting NYC I really liked this one.
Rating: ***

Deanna Boe (05/12/18): Recently I reviewed an older book by Quindlen, BLESSINGS, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This is a good book but not one of her best, but if you are a Quindlen fan don’t let my comments stop you.

I have lived all around the world in some very large cities, saying this, the thought of living in New York has never appealed to me, don’t ask me why. Probably just the cost of the apartments is enough to give one pause, let alone the traffic. I must be getting old since that wouldn’t have bothered me years ago.

This novel centers, in a way, just about that – your living space and traffic. First, where to live? Is it really possible to find something worthwhile right in the middle of New York City without going broke? Next there is the traffic. What causes traffic but cars, lots of cars! Where to park those cars? It just so happens that in all this hubbub of New York City there is a street that has no outlet; in short these homes enjoy a somewhat quiet respite from all that is transpiring all around them. But, where to park your car? Amazingly enough there is an empty lot in this dead-end-street that holds six cars. The main characters of this story, Charlie and Nora, purchased their home on this very uniquely secluded block years ago. Charlie assumed he would automatically inherit the car spot, not so. One had to be selected to be able to park their car there. This meant Charlie had to park their car in a garage a couple of blocks away that cost him almost as much a month as their first apartment. Why not simply park on the street? This amounts to one giant headache every time you return home, circling the area for a place to park. This is the premise upon which this story is built.

In the opening pages we find out Charlie has finally been given one of those six spots for his car. He is very excited! Enough to perk him up for awhile since life for him in New York City no longer holds the exotic feel it did years ago. He has not earned the position in his company that he felt he deserved. He knows he could go elsewhere and be held in higher esteem at many companies throughout the U.S. Not only that, the home they purchased on this exclusive street for $600,000 many years ago (when their children were young and living at home) now could be sold in a bidding war for $10 million! Time to move. Unfortunately, Nora loves New York and has just been given the opportunity for a job of a lifetime.

The storyline has one meeting the various neighbors, and naturally, like all neighborhoods, there are those one does not like and can be quite obnoxious We also meet their help that have been working for them since their children were born, and the handyman who keeps all of their older homes perking right along. Somehow all of this is tied up with that irreplaceable parking area, the insufferable neighbor, and the conscientious handyman. In short, what happens on this very unique street and to Charlie and Nora? The storyline could happen even in my small hometown in Iowa, but especially in a large city like nerve wracking New York.
Rating: ***

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