HIGH MAINTENANCE is the welcome return of the fresh-voiced Jennifer Belle. It is just as funny, sarcastic, colorful and appealing as her breakthrough novel GOING DOWN.
If there is anything that we New Yorkers know it's real estate. We talk about it almost incessantly, freely discussing rent and rodents and Realtors. We know the ins and outs of finding a place almost as well as the people to whom we pay a lot of money to find places for us. Almost all of us could very well be real estate brokers if our other careers --- or marriages, as in Liv Kellerman's case --- don't work out.
Liv Kellerman is a young woman who has just left her husband of five years and, most importantly, their luxurious penthouse apartment with an Empire State Building view. Insane you say? Welcome to the life of Liv. Now on her own for the first time, she relocates to a crumbling Greenwich Village hovel where she contemplates her next move. Finding real estate to be her true calling --- she can lie with a straight face --- she is soon among the hard-core brokers of New York City. Along her way to the top of their food chain, she picks up an attached architect with a penchant for biting, two or three insane bosses, a gun, and some petulant clients.
For most New Yorkers, it is almost a requirement to thrive on drama in order to survive. Lord knows just hailing a cab takes a certain mastery of the craft (and cleavage doesn't hurt). All of Belle's ebullient characters have plenty of drama and humanity. They are instantly recognizable. They are the kind of people who make you say, "Oh My God, Jennifer Belle and I must know the same people," as you read about their trials and triumphs. And, in effect, you probably do --- because Jennifer Belle really knows people.
Belle truly has a talent for characterization. Even the supporting characters live in Technicolor in her world. Liv is funny, smart and real. She is very much like most of the women I know, all of us trying to find where we fit in a city --- or a life --- that is too big for us. She has the perfect sarcastic unaffected New Yorker tone to her voice and just the right amount of angst. And then there's Andrew. He's the perfect example of what single women in New York (or anywhere for that matter) fear. He is doting, accomplished, rich and insane. And don't get me started on the emotional baggage he carries. It's all there in his journal.
The chapter titles are great, although those among you readers who do not look at the classified section of the New York Times every day searching for a great deal on a rent-stabilized apartment with a doorman and a view of the park (let me know if you find one) may have a hard time deciphering them.
There is a nice cyclical effect in the plot when Liv realizes that Andrew's "Jordan" is her first boss' perfect reader --- her first boss being a blind judge. And as a reader, I was so blinded by the neuroses of Liv's clients and all of the other problems with Andrew that I forgot that detail. It was a pleasing reminder and very well executed.
In the end, hit by a bike messenger --- arguably the worst thing in New York --- the city is getting to Liv. But as she says, "There are no other cities." This must be the mantra of New York. Once here, there's really nowhere else on the planet as vivid, dirty, fun, real, hard, pleasing or New York as New York.
As the materials accompanying the book suggest, HIGH MAINTENANCE is another brilliantly twisted New York Story. But it is certain to appeal to those outside of New York by merit of its wit and pervasive humor. And though I may be afraid to find someone like Andrew, I may have to look for a new apartment...because as Liv realizes, "for a single girl in New York there is no such thing as living too far south." Maybe she has some leads.
Reviewed by Josette Kurey on May 3, 2001