Author Valerie Ann Leff's debut novel, Better Homes and Husbands, was published in 2005. The novel tracks the denizens of an upscale housing co-op at 980 Park Avenue from the 1970s onward. Aside from their address, the Upper East Side residents have little in common.
Readers meet Dick Sapphire, a lawyer who lost his first wife to suicide and is about to lose his second to her career. His current wife, Sidney, is the ambitious ABC news anchor who will stop at nothing to succeed professionally. His daughter, Claudia, and her best childhood friend, Madeline, have been torn apart by a terrible tragedy. Angela Somoza has, perhaps, the most unique background of the building's tenants, for she is the granddaughter of a Latin American dictator. In an effort to rebuke her heritage, Angela goes to great lengths to smuggle Latin American freedom fighters into the United States. She is also quick to detect the board's flagrant anti-Semitism. The building's doyenne, Baronness Idabell Smith d'Alencon is the idol and envy of all the building's female residents. And in an ironic twist of fate, the building's doorman, Vinnie Ferretti, joins the ranks of the tenants he once served when he becomes a major fashion designer. Mrs. Coddington, the most interesting character, is the stodgy old woman who runs the building's board and passes her time spending her incredible wealth. She forges a friendship with the local pharmacist whom she sees regularly to get her ailing husband's medication. The board of 980 Park Avenue works diligently to keep out those whom they deem unworthy of residence in the elite building. Some believe that this pertains especially to the Jewish applicants who vie for the sole penthouse apartment available.
Better Homes and Husbands weaves a complex tapestry of characters over the three decades presented in the novel. Leff explores class, race, infidelity, and other equally daunting themes through a lens of privilege, pedigree, and prestige.
Valerie Ann Leff lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she codirects the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina. Although this is her only novel to date, Leff's writing has appeared in several periodicals.