Today at Great New Books, GNB team member Nina Badzin shares a recent favorite book, and we have the pleasure of hosting a giveaway of that book, VISIBLE CITY by Tova Mirvis (details below). Thank you to Tova and her publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for the copy for the giveaway.
VISIBLE CITY by Tova Mirvis
When I started reading Visible City by Tova Mirvis, I had two positive preconceived notions about the novel. First, I was already a fan of Mirvis’s work after reading The Ladies Auxiliary in 2000 and The Outside World in 2004. Second, how could I resist a book with a main character who happens to share my name (Nina)?
In Visible City, Mirvis gives us three couples to watch who live near each other. Like Ann Patchett, who noted in The Story of a Happy Marriage that her own stories start with the notion of people thrown together, this plot, too, allows the reader to see what happens when unexpected connections are made between characters.
We first meet Nina, a stay-at-mom of two young children, who spends many evenings alone while her husband is out working very late. Rather than watching TV or reading a book, she entertains herself by spying on a family she can see in a nearby window. This other couple, Claudia and Leon, and their grown daughter, Emma, fascinate Nina, who studies them night after night.
When Nina runs into Leon on the street, she gets to learn more–quite a bit more–about his family. They strike up a friendship that will threaten both of their marriages. As it turns out, their lives are intertwined in other ways, too. Leon’s wife, Claudia, was Nina’s art history professor. Later, Leon and Claudia’s daughter, Emma, who is in the middle of breaking off her engagement, starts to babysit for Nina’s children.
We get chapters that follow several of the other characters, allowing the reader a window into the various relationships. Windows, as a matter of fact, become an important theme as characters assume so much based on the small view they have of each other’s lives. There’s also the fact that Claudia’s work has always been centered on a particular type of stained glass window. In one of the earliest chapters, we get Claudia’s self-awareness that “her interest in the minutia of window frames or leaded glass would make the uninitiated feel sorry they’d asked. This was true even for Leon and Emma, who joked that Claudia studied details most people didn’t notice.
Claudia and Nina share that quality of focusing on the small details. The aspect of Nina that first thrills Leon is how she’s always paying such close attention to everyone and everything around her, including to him.
There are several subplots to follow in Visible City as well. My favorite involves Nina’s friend, Wendy, who works hard to appear like a perfect mom, but happens to be one of Leon’s angriest clients. (Leon is a psychologist.) Wendy’s story is another example of how each character, armed with little information of the others, thinks they know everything about the next person.
The entire time I was reading the book, this theme made me think of how we interact on the internet and how easy it is to forget that what we see there is just one window into people’s lives.
I recommend Visible City for its study of the assumptions people make and what that truly reveals about the person doing the assuming. I also recommend it for the deep analysis of marriage, and for the admirable way Mirvis brings the many characters and their stories together in ways the reader couldn’t predict.
To enter the drawing to win a copy of VISIBLE CITY by Tova Mirvis, enter on the form below from Wednesday, April 9 until Friday, April 11 at midnight Eastern time.
Great New Books will email the winner and announce it here on Saturday, April 12. (Entries for the Continental US only, please.) As always, thanks for helping us to spread the word about great books and thank you for joining us!
Have you read VISIBLE CITY or another of Tova Mirvis’s work? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!