Jen Fain is not a character the reader easily understands. Whereas she cares about the downtrodden, ill-equipped, city-scorned victims of inequity she bumps into on her daily agenda, she paradoxically does little or nothing to remedy their plight. An example comes to mind from the novel’s third “chapter,” in which Fain goes down to the first floor vestibule of her apartment building to retrieve her morning paper. A bum is asleep under the mailboxes, between the unlocked outer door and the locked inner door. She says, “I could have stepped over the sleeping man, picked up my Times, and gone upstairs to read it. Instead, I knocked absurdly from inside the door, and said, Wake up. You’ll have to leave now.’”
In another example, Fain finds a girl in the hallway of a friend’s apartment building looking “much too fast asleep” and not “entirely alive.” The narrator cannot find the callousness to leave the girl’s side, but she will not take any action, either; she just stares concernedly. The thought comes to Fain to check the girl’s purse or call an ambulance, but her friend says, “Maybe she wouldn’t want an ambulance.” Fain does not check her purse for identification, deciding that, should she become involved, the police might think she had some tie to the girl.
“My own mind is a tenement,” Jen Fain says. “Some elevators work. There are orange peels and muggings in the halls. Squatters and double...
(The entire section is 557 words.)