Heading out for the summer’s final hurrah? Be sure to pack The Doll House, a new novel by first-time author Fiona Davis, in your tote for a great read on the Hampton Jitney and at the beach. Or give it as a house present—your hostess will love it.
Packed with New York City references and nuances, the book vacillates between 1952 and now, weaving a story of mystery and intrigue centered around our city’s iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women, a pre-war structure that once housed Sylvia Plath, (others), and lesser known ladies with proper pedigrees who came to New York and needed a safe, temporary oasis on the city’s tony Upper East Side.
The modern-day protagonist, Rose Lewin, faces several hurdles when confronted by her roommate/boyfriend Griff’s surprise announcement that he must leave their beautiful condominium in the newly renovated building, The Barbizon, so he can reconcile with his estranged wife “for the sake of his daughter,” a troubled teenager who evokes the ‘brat’ label with no problem. Griff, a self-centered deputy mayor with barely disguised political ambitions of his own, rapidly vacates the expansive apartment (which he owns). But, shortly thereafter, he makes a sudden, drop-in appearance to inform Rose that he and his family are moving back there, and she must vacate immediately. But where can she go? She gave up a prized West Village rent-controlled apartment when she moved in with Griff, assuming they were to be married. (Hmmm. Is there a lesson here)?
Life hasn’t been easy for Rose. Her mother abandoned her when she was a teen, and may have passed away from drug addiction. Her life is further complicated by her aged father’s dementia, and the care and concern she exhibits toward him in his final days is both touching and sad. And although Rose had a promising career as an anchor for a major network, which may have figured in the wily Griff’s attraction to her, she resigned under a cloud (and took the fall for her female superior). Now relegated to working for a twenty-something guy at a startup for much less money and no visibility, her job is shaky. An encounter with an elderly female resident in the building, Miss McLaughlin, gives Rose an idea for a story that promises to put her on better footing, and the video producer assigned to work with her opens up romantic possibilities. Adding to the mix are several parallels between the two women, as the story flashes back to what New York City was like in the 1950s.
Despite displaying questionable ethics, Rose is impressive in her research for the piece—when was the last time we’ve read of journalists poring through microfilm at the New York Public Library—as she gleans facts and insights about the Barbizon’s past to support her story. The denouement comes as a pleasant surprise, and anyone who now strolls by 63rd and Lexington can’t help but look at The Barbizon through different eyes.
The Doll House