When a divorce forces Liv Kellerman to vacate her beloved apartment in New York City, she vows to make a few changes. Liv accepts a position working for a blind judge, for one, but quickly realizes money isn’t to be made dutifully telling Jerome if his tie clashes with his suit. It’s at a party with her boss that she meets Andrew Lugar, a deranged but lovable man who introduces himself by hoisting Liv into his arms and threatening to throw her over a high-rise balcony.
Literally. That’s what happens.
After their bizarre encounter, Liv has no desire to see Andrew again — but Andrew doesn’t feel the same about her. He conspires to meet up with her by posing as a real estate client not long after Liv begins buying and selling property. With a motley crew of coworkers, friends and pseudo-family, Liv — the daughter of a rich, successful fashion designer — attempts to make her own way in the city that has eaten so many others alive.
Jennifer Belle’s High Maintenance is an acquired taste. With caustic wit, ridiculous scenarios, over-the-top and unbelievably snarky characters and a plot that flows as a true love letter to New York, her novel sometimes feels like an acid trip. While reading, the word “odd” kept popping in my head. But in a good way, I guess.
What really struck me about High Maintenance is its definite sense of place and time. Set in a pre-9/11 world, Belle’s passages about the New York skyline are jarring. We’re dealing with a world largely saved from the Internet boom, too, and “e-mail” is still a foreign concept to this strange group. It’s funny to think this book, first published in 2001, is already so dated. That setting made me nostalgic.
“There were framed black-and-white photographs of old New York on the walls. One was of the downtown skyline before the World Trade Center was built. It was like looking in the mirror as a child and finding two teeth missing.”
Liv herself is an enigma. She seems to alternate between hating Andrew and desperately wanting to be loved by Andrew, and Andrew himself seems like a borderline psychopath. While I didn’t find him appealing in the least, her exploits with him were entertaining. In fact, that’s how I would describe High Maintenance as a whole: wildly entertaining.
It’s about attempting to find a place of permanence in an impermanent world. About carving out a little shell in which to reside and holding steadfastly to that sense of “home.” It asks questions about whether a home is defined by people, location or things, and also reminds us that our own sense of place is fleeting. Everything changes. By the close of the story, Liv realizes her need to truly begin anew . . . and that’s something with which many of us can relate.
Because Belle’s sense of humor might not appeal to all readers, I’d recommend High Maintenance to this who enjoy vibrant characters, a deadpan writing style and witty commentary on what it means to live and covet life in New York. The city itself operates as another character entirely, and it’s easy to understand why the Big Apple holds such enormous appeal. Liv knows that, too.
4 out of 5!