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Better Homes and Husbands, Valerie Ann Leff


Anyone who has played Monopoly knows the winning strategy is to own Park Avenue and Board Walk, load them up with hotels, and cleanout every player who inevitably lands there.  Valerie Ann Leff wants to clean readers out with her debut novel Better Homes and Husbands, (St. Martin’s Press 2004) a funny, insightful and compassionate book about the people who live and work at the glamorous Park Avenue address.


August 04, 2004

Other titles set in New York this summer, Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Plum Sykes’ Bergdorf Blondes, take a slice of the big apple and serve up humorous social commentary on lives of the rich and famous which fit the chick-lit category. Better Homes and Husbands takes a deeper bite— think Tom Wolfe, and that’s a whole different bite.


It was Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe’s satirical look at the uber wealthy investment broker set of the 80’s, where the bar was set for writers attempting to capture and parody this excess.


Valerie’s novel deals less satirically and more socio-anthropologically with her Park Avenue co-op community over a span of 30 years, revealing more than stereotypes of affluence or greed.  In Better Homes and Husbands, Leff casts a wider net into the Manhattan pond of rich, sexy and established, and manages to catch some of the little fish in this important food chain. Through carefully drawn counterpoints of human drama that reach below the surface, she displays a subtle grasp of the commonality in people attempting to cope with life issues—regardless of station, age, sex, color or creed.  We see their frailties, their egos, their desires, and their humanity.


The novel begins with the friendship of Claudia Bloom and Madeline Sapphire, two eight-year old girls whose million-dollar and multimillion-dollar net-worth is the backdrop to their Manhattan childhood friendship.  But money does not buy happiness and tragedy pushes them on their separate paths over the course of the book.


The New York City doorman strike, introduces Vincent Ferretti.  Vincent’s job is to make the residents of 980 Park Avenue feel “like they’re living in the safest, cleanest most gracious building in New York”—and he does this on a minimum wage salary. But when the co-op elects to upgrade the elevator from manual to automatic, Vinnie draws the short straw as most recent employee, and loses his five-year tenure, catapulting him into a risk-taking endeavor involving other characters of the book.


A favorite chapter is the tender relationship that develops between Mrs. Coddington, wife of Herbert Coddington, (Director of banking, chemical and investment corporations and board member on the Met, the Public Library, etc.) and Mr. Rosen, the corner drugstore pharmacist.  Mrs. C is dealing with her husband’s hospitalization and decline into Alzheimer disease. Her loneliness overcomes social barriers and she accepts regular coffee-dates with this gentle soul mate, whose own widowed state propels them to connect.


So of all the book properties on the Manhattan Monopoly board this summer, pickup a copy of Better Homes and Husbands, the debut novel by Valerie Ann Leff.  



Guides and Reviews 


Reviewed by Paula Shackleton

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