4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Wow! Cooperative Lives, by Patrick Finegan, what a head-spinning novel. So rich and layered for a first time author. Big ideas. Truth, how do you construct it, is it constructed? The way lives come together, collide, slip past, or disrupt each other. I give it 4 out of 4 stars.
Set in a Co-operative building on NYC’s Upper East Side where traffic is frightening, the story looses at least 5 lives. The story runs quickly, as a car rushing, and only because it is tightly held in place by the author does it maintain its course instead of ending splayed un-comprehensive in the street.
This book is not about death. From espionage to aching love to sports and strange coincidence the characters’ stories unwind in the present, 6 months past, or two years past. Each character has a trajectory we can follow that makes them who they are but we are usually surprised by their past. An IT specialist as great detective. His wife, the knowing, or is she knowing, spy. A case of unrequited feelings with ramifications years in the future. The tryst that comes out in the confession of an old friend to his wife’s lover. Each action is set in motion by a set of circumstances but where you view the re-actions will affect your understanding. The past does not always lead seamlessly to the “present.” And sometimes situations are just accidental or merely a result of opportunity.
The story follows lawyers, doctors, IT executives, widowers, widows, children, staff of a high rise, each with their place within the puzzle. Yes, the women are considerably younger then the men. Yes, some dote on small dogs and spend most of their time in designer clothes. This is a “certain kind” of NYC, with a hint at former (if not current) glamour, and the luster of old-world charm. Complete with the obligatory reference to the “steam” that runs the city in Tom Wolfe’s novel of a similar set. But, in Cooperative Lives, some of the couples and families in the building are multi-racial (for generations); progress has occurred.
The story has many threads. The residents all inhabit this space of random focus within the city (like a “cruise ship,” large, imposing, opulent, and yet only bobbing along). They have attained what they have in this life. The ability to move in the circles they do. But none of them is “known” to the other, even the ones in close relationships. It’s as if a sprawling family were being analyzed looking for something in common between the strangers that live together and the answer is simply “The Cooperative.”
Questioning whether his elderly patient is coherent and if he remembers things that happened or is piecing together accounts of what others have said happened, Dr. Simmons, comments that the patient has some very detailed memories about specific points of the story which never waver. His summation: “… no one can supply rich, contextual detail. Instead, the story gets thinner and more focused with each retelling.” Bringing home the point that not everything we know is true. And sometimes scrutiny makes the object harder to understand.
The “truth” is what keeps the middle, the critical mass, afloat. It’s how we interact together as a society, or come apart. The so called truths we believe and pass on. A simple example being assigning speed limits and then everyone breaking them. An example of how being different, adhering to the speed limit and going slower than those around us, is dangerous, and we are all complicit.
Hypocrisy exists. And it may not cause the disasters that are our lives, but that it exists makes it that much harder to point fingers.
I liked the speed and depth of this book. I did get lost a time or two. But is was pretty easy to go to the chapter head and remind myself what the time period was. Anyone who likes cat-and-mouse intrigue with lots of characters, social/economic commentary, and life lessons learned, will like this book.
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon