Morningside Heights ~ Cheryl Mendelson

Full disclosure: This is the initial novel published in 2003 by a dear friend of mine. Oddly enough, her first published work was Home Comforts, a how-to book of prodigious size and thoroughness. Cheryl lives in the neighborhood (home to Columbia and Barnard), and teaches at the latter. She’s married to a professor of literature at Columbia.

The focus of the novel is the gentrification of the Upper West side neighborhood of Morningside Heights, so it’s really a novel of place. But also a novel of the rarefied atmosphere of academia – with all its politics, pettiness and perils. Caught in the middle are lower to middle class folks who are finding it difficult to continue a viable existence in a neighborhood that they have always lived in. Surrounding the social aspects of the novel is the story of one of the elderly residents of the building who dies (or was she murdered?).

The novel contains several well-written characters, but they all seem to over think their own and others motivations. This is the way we get to know them all, and that would sound slow going, but the pace is fine. But it’s a bit jarring when the pace rapidly picks up towards the end, and the mysteries are all solved, rather quickly. The conclusion remains satisfying, however.

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