Few writers can match Cathleen Schine's skill at deftly drawing characters with perfect wit: George, now 28 years old, had been a child prodigy. No one knew it. Except George. He hadn't been sure in exactly what field he was a child prodigy, but the elusive nature of his gift had neither eased his burden nor dampened his determination.
In her seventh novel, The New Yorkers, Schine gives readers an enchanting ensemble cast that lives on a single block in Manhattan. There's George's sister, Polly, who rents an apartment whose previous tenant committed suicide only a few days earlier. She's less concerned about possible ghosts than the small puppy left in a closet. Jody, a self-described spinster who's in love with her elderly pit bull, is quickly taken with divorced Everett. But what will she make of Simon, who goes out of his way to ensure that their paths cross when she's walking her beloved Beatrice? Thrown into the midst of these dog lovers and those who tolerate them is Doris, who's appalled at the waste left behind by neighborhood canines. This is not Paris! becomes her rallying cry as she tries to organize like-minded people against the evils of excrement, hoping to convince a city councilman to support her cause.
The dogs bring neighbors together in unexpected ways as their owners search for love and companionship. Readers not fond of the canines among us have nothing to fear: Although there's plenty of sentiment gushing toward the pets, loving them is certainly not a requirement for enjoying this book.
As always, Schine's prose is elegant and sophisticated, full of droll humor. She's at her best here, bringing intimacy to an enormous city, populating it with characters that will resonate beyond Manhattan. The New Yorkers is wonderfully readable and thoroughly engaging: the perfect book to take to the park on a bright spring day, whether you have a dog at your heels or not.
Tasha Alexander is the author of A Poisoned Season. She lives in a neighborhood full of well-behaved dogs.