The Dakota is a notorious, castle-like building on 72nd Street off Manhattan’s Central Park—but 130 years ago, this location was the muddy middle of nowhere. Fiona Davis’ The Address is the story of two women a century apart whose tumultuous lives become part of the Dakota’s sometimes unhappy history. Even John Lennon figures into it.
The novel begins in 1884, when Sara Smythe is brought from London to New York City to be the “manageress” of this brand-new but remote apartment building. In 1985, Bailey Camden is the poor, not-quite relation of the Camdens, who now own the Dakota. Having been tossed out of her interior decorating gig, Bailey gets a job renovating her cousin Melinda’s apartment, transforming it from fusty Edwardian to Barbie beach house. Melinda, a deliciously nasty piece of work, wants green plastic drawer pulls. It’s dispiriting.
Yet dispiriting isn’t the word when it comes to the fate of Sara, who falls in love with the Dakota’s designer. Theodore Camden is a man with three cherubic children and an unhappy wife—but you only think you know what happens next. Davis knows how to twist a plot.
With her nimble writing style, Davis makes pithy commentary on gender, social and economic inequality in both eras. In the earlier setting, one fallen woman is carted off to an insane asylum, while another retains her status by dint of being in a respectable marriage. In 1985, Melinda dismisses servants without a second thought and treats Bailey just a little bit better.
This thought-provoking book makes you wonder what Edith Wharton would have made of these Camdens and pseudo-Camdens. Thankfully, Davis is here to tell us.