never married, over forty, a little bitter


About six weeks into my tenure here my mind was alerted to two potential trouble spots: the roommate situation and the job situation.

In regard to the employment search, early on I was rejected from a couple of positions in my former organization, and a visit to a placement agency yielded a discouraging response. My friends told me I was being paranoid, and my roommate advised me to just (shut up) and take a low-level, low-paying job that was open at another agency (I pulled out of that one and was later told by numerous people in the know that I made the right decision).

My mother flew immediately into panic mode, but although I felt in my bones that things did not look good, I also thought it would be ridiculous not to press on looking for a bit longer while pursuing the other goals I had in mind when I moved here.

Within those first six weeks, I also developed niggling doubts about the roommate, doubts that were confirmed in the end.

During that time, while I was signing up for classes and moving ahead on my other projects, I expressed my doubts and fears to a friend about the job search and my roommate’s behavior, and she shut me down with a lecture about how I “was never happy.” It felt terrible to be shut down that way, especially as I was right in both cases. We haven’t spoken since.

I thought about sending that friend a holiday card but decided against it. I spent a couple of years feeling disappointed in the friendship yet hanging on, remembering the times it had been a satisfying one. In the end, she doubted me and left me to my own devices during a time I sorely needed a sounding board. She didn’t believe in my intuition, and now I can’t see the point.


We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound. In our lives of quiet desperation, the woman upstairs is who we are, with or without a goddamn tabby or pesky lolloping Labrador, and not a soul registers that we are furious. We’re completely invisible. I thought it wasn’t true, or not true of me, but I’ve learned I am no different at all. P. 6


The Woman Upstairs is a curious and compelling book—a contemporary Jean Brodie on steroids. Nora’s passion and onslaught of emotions for these people will strike some as peculiar or frightening. It feels as if nothing good can come of it but where will the fabric tear and who will cross the line? What makes a life fulfilling, and if what you think is not real, what do you do with what is left? Messud brings these questions to the forefront with her intense prose simultaneously creating sympathy for Nora in her loneliness but unease at the need that suffuses her every thought. With a surgeon’s precision she lifts the top of the collective cranium of an entire subset of women who, in having been given so much, feel left with so little. The Woman Upstairs is fiction that will resonate. There is what, to many, will be an unseemly rage but out of it comes an empowering sense of triumph.