Sunday, March 13, 2011

Twelve Rooms with a View

I was actually standing on the edge of my mother’s open grave when I heard about the house. Some idiot with tattoos and a shovel had tossed a huge wad of dirt at me. I think he was perturbed that everyone else had taken off, the way they’re supposed to, and I was standing there like someone had brained me with a frying pan. It’s not like I was making a scene. But I couldn’t leave. The service in the little chapel had totally blown—all that deacon or what ever he was could talk about was god and his mercy and utter unredeemable nonsense that had nothing to do with her—so I was just standing there, thinking maybe something else could be said while they put her in the earth, something simple but hopefully specific. Which is when Lucy came up and yanked at my arm.

“Come on,” she said. “We have to talk about the house.”

And I’m thinking, what house?    

Twelve Rooms with a View (Chapter One, Page One) 

Can you imagine your estranged, alcoholic mother dying and leaving her second husband's $11 million dollar Central Park West (NYC) apartment, to you and your sisters? Well, acclaimed playwright (novelist and screenwriter) Theresa Rebeck imagined it and shaped it into her novel, TWELVE ROOMS WITH A VIEW. In the story, the Finn Sisters suddenly find themselves strategizing ways to keep the historic piece of inherited real estate in their possession - away from the Drinans, the three sons of the second husband who grew up in the legendary, Edgewood Building, and a co-op board that wants to usurp the property from both of the families.

The apartment itself (including a ghost), and the dead, eccentric mother, emerge as central characters in this book narrated by Tina Finn. She is a young woman, a house cleaner, who lives in a trailer park and is on the skids, both professionally and in the relationship department. After the mother's funeral, Tina is appointed by her much more successful and domineering sisters to move into the palatial Edgewood as a squatter and stake the sisters' claim to the apartment they feel they've rightfully inherited. However, when Tina settles in, she is met with legal opposition and entanglements from the quirky Drinan sons (one of whom is a NYPD cop and has romantic designs on Tina), the co-op board, and certain residents of the Edgewood with agendas all their own.

The arc of the story follows Tina, a petty thief, who is suddenly forced (at the age of 32) to assess her own life, the lives of her sisters, the life and death of her mother, and even the Drinan sons on a level much deeper than she's normally accustomed to. It is in doing so that Rebeck offers a fascinating exploration into the themes of family (and the flaws and secrets therein), grief, forgiveness, greed, self-interest and the lengths some people must go to in order to do the right thing and transform their lives - and the lives of those around them.

Rebeck writes big scenes and pitch-perfect dialogue. And while the richly woven characterizations and sprawling interior monologues often over-shadow the plot, for me that's what made the story even more compelling. Beyond the legal and real estate intricacies, you'll be eager to make the journey with Tina Finn because she offers a bold, comically honest and ultimately self-aware voice in modern, contemporary fiction.

Twelve Rooms with a View by Theresa Rebeck
Crown, Hardcover, 9780307394163, 352pp.
Publication Date: May 4, 2010
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