They almost seem to be living on an isolated island, with their solitary pursuits and their quirky habits. We meet them one by one, introduced by the unidentified narrator, who seems to be another person in the neighborhood that we never meet.
Jody is a blond music teacher, living alone in her studio apartment in the West Side neighborhood in New York. The block featured in this novel is described as “not fashionable,” but the appeal is its proximity to the park, as well as its rent-controlled apartments. Jody has lived here since she graduated college.
Polly is youthful and ebullient, and she and her brother George move in after she and her boyfriend break up. An apartment becomes available when someone dies. George seemingly flits from woman to woman, never settling on one.
Everett is divorced, his daughter is in college, and his solitary existence seems bleak. Others describe him as like an “old maid.”
Simon is a social worker, also living on the block since college graduation eighteen years before. He works with people, but has no affinity for them. He prefers his solitude.
At the end of the block, two gay men run the Go Go Grill, where many of the neighbors end up at one time or another, and often frequently.
We see this neighborhood as one that could become a community, but something seems to be missing. Then we meet the dogs, one by one. As the owners walk them, they notice the other neighbors walking their dogs. The dogs are the glue that connects the people in this rather isolated cell of a neighborhood. In fact, even at the Go Go Grill, dogs are allowed and the owners have their own dogs lolling about.
Gradually some of the neighbors develop friendships and even relationships. But everything seems centered around the dogs. As if they are the most significant aspect in each connection. Like most novels, there are love connections, but the people seem to be pairing off with the wrong partners. Toward the end of the novel, some of these unlikely matches come undone and others are made.
One resident of the neighborhood sets off a jarring note. She hates dogs and is on a campaign to “clean up” the streets. If she can’t eliminate dogs completely, she wants to make it difficult for them and their owners. Her behavior and pursuits add some drama to the story. Otherwise it would go along, shifting from one character to the next, with scarcely anything at all to break the monotony of these characters’ lives.
I liked the story, but would have enjoyed it more if I’d really cared about the characters. They all seemed so bland that I sometimes wanted to shake them up a bit, just so they could see how their somewhat passive existence could be improved. But then again, their story is a unique study of people who’ve settled into patterns in their daily lives in a vibrant city, yet live almost like onlookers.
Because of the blandness and the disconnectedness (without the dogs) of the characters, and the somewhat plodding nature of the tale, I’m giving The New Yorkers: A Novel four stars.