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.