Book review: ‘High Maintenance’ by Jennifer Belle

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!

ISBN: 157322930X ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Little Stalker’ by Jennifer Belle

little_stalker Jennifer Belle’s contemporary novel Little Stalker is about obsession, love, secrets and dedication to something larger, and more powerful, than ourselves. It’s about reconciling the past, learning to accept a new reality and learning that many types of love are possible. I should preface all of this by saying that I loved it! But I’ll try to be a little more descriptive and eloquent than that.

Novelist and New Yorker Rebekah Kettle hit it big a few years back with her acclaimed novel The Hard Part — and she hasn’t written much since. Thick in the middle of trying to produce a second book to ship over to her editor, Rebekah can think of little lately but her obsession with famous director Arthur Weeman (a character based on Woody Allen, apparently — though I didn’t get these references in the book). For the past twenty years, Rebekah is trudged over to the movie theatre each fall to see Weeman’s newest film. This particular year, the movie receives poor reviews — though Rebekah steadfastly defends it. As she becomes more and more obsessed with Weeman’s floundering success and dedication to his “brilliance,” Rebekah begins to uncover truths about herself through her loyalty to Weeman’s work.

So much is revealed in this novel, I’m struggling to write up a synopsis without giving anything away. As a thirteen-year-old girl, Rebekah takes a giant plunge into adulthood — and at 33, she’s still never fully dealt with the consequences of her actions. She hasn’t allowed herself time to process what happened. She’s just kept running — running from the end of her parents’ marriage, running from past love, running from the writing of a second novel. Rebekah begins writing fan letters to Arthur — or “Awful Writer,” as she calls him, knowing he has a particular abhorrence for obsessive fans — from a thirteen-year-old girl named Thalia. Of course, these letters are actually from Rebekah’s teenage self, trying to come to terms with what happened to her that year.

Everything begins to fit together like a puzzle, revealing both the truth of what has happened and the reality that Rebekah accepted for so long. This all probably sounds incredibly heavy — and it is heavy — but Belle touches on everything with humor and eloquence. This could have gotten really cheesy really quickly, but it doesn’t. Anyone who’s shared a cultish love of a celebrity (in my case, Mr. John Mayer) will understand what it’s like to love someone from afar, feeling as though you truly know them without this object of your desire having any clue you exist.

But more than that, this is a story about family. I absolutely loved Rebekah’s father, Dr. Kettle, and the host of other family members that . . . pop up. Rebekah’s friend Mrs. Williams was an unbelievably charming and realistic character, and really part of the spine of the entire plot. There were plenty of twists in the story, sharp turns that took me totally by surprise. Jennifer Belle is a deftly talented author; her prose is liquid, gorgeous. I gobbled this novel up, reveling in Rebekah’s ability to examine “art imitating life” — or is it life imitating art? I don’t know if anyone can perfectly answer that question, but check out Little Stalker if you want to take a jab at it.

4.5 out of 5

ISBN: 1594482926 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg