Jill Ciment lives in New York, has a pet dachshund, and is married to an artist. This is also all part of the situation of her newest book, which has landed on Oprah's summer reading list. This tightly packed novel has three parallel plot lines, narrated with metropolitan charm by Elisabeth Rodgers. Alex and Ruth Cohen have been living in the same East Village apartment for almost five decades, and they have no idea how much it's worth, but they do know they are tired of climbing its five flights of stairs. They don't want to leave their neighborhood; they just want a place with an elevator.
Enter the real estate broker, by turns savvy and slimy, voiced by Rodgers with all the hilarious pomp and satire such a stereotype deserves. The Cohens are astounded to discover the asking price on their little apartment is a million bucks. They are also saddened to discover that their beloved dachshund, Dorothy, suddenly cannot use her hind legs. So the bulk of the story concerns the escalating stakes in the Cohens' pursuit of a situation that is better for their own legs and for Dorothy's.
As they rush back and forth between open houses and the surgical veterinary hospital, their progress is constantly interrupted by the fact that a suspected mad bomber is loose somewhere nearby. Rodgers does some very careful work with the tone here, as Ruth and Alex repeatedly find themselves sliding into awkward ethical dilemmas. As long as the terrorist is running amok, the offers on their apartment are getting larger. They must also decide whether to use a visit to Dorothy, recovering from her back surgery, as an excuse to outbid other prospective buyers. Some of the best bits here are when Rodgers narrates from the unique point of view of the cute little dog, a task more intricate and less cheesy than it sounds.
As the three plot lines converge, the narration gets ever more frantic. Will the bomber surrender? Will Dorothy ever walk again? Will the Cohens make enough money on the sale of their apartment to afford their dream apartment just a few blocks away? Rodgers constructs a very fine web of anxiety here, humanizing two of the most fundamental moral questions of our age that Ciment has neatly laid out: What would you do for a million dollars, and what wouldn't you do for just ten thousand more? Megan Volpert