Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Everyone knows a woman upstairs. She has an apartment on the second or third floor and is a quiet respectable neighbor. She has a job, perhaps a nurse or teacher or working in an office. There don't seem to be many friends around or a love interest. She is the woman who is easy to ignore, the one who may be included in social outings but is not the first one to be invited. She is pleasant but unremarkable.
Nora Eldridge is that woman. She wanted to be an artist and showed talent, but ended up getting a teaching degree and has taught third grade for a decade. There were lovers but marriage just never seemed to happen. She is the dutiful daughter, the easy-going teacher, the woman who is unnoticed.
But under her pleasant façade, Nora is consumed with anger. She did want things in her life and is not content with how things have turned out. When she gets a charming child in her classroom and then meets his sophisticated parents, she begins to believe her life can still change. Sirena is an artist and she and Nora rent a studio together. Nora helps Sirena with her art and soon is a family friend. She babysits the child from her class. Sirena's husband is a visiting professor who is well-known in academic circles. They have what seems to be a charmed life and Nora is entranced with each member of the family. Can this be the turnaround point of her own life?
Claire Messud has given a voice to the overlooked women we all know. She understands the rage that lives under the pleasant surface, the rage that women feel when they subsume their dreams to take care of others. She explores the subjects of alienation, friendship, what one will sacrifice to achieve a dream and how life will go on with or without one making their mark. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.