Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents--dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist--have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard.
But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a "terrorist," and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora's happiness explodes her boundaries--until Sirena's own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.
Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill--and the devastating cost--of giving in to one's passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013: If this ferocious novel were to have a subtitle, it would be: No More Ms. Nice Guy. "How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that," barks Nora Eldridge, our 42-year-old protagonist, an aesthete-wannabe who has slid into the bourgeois suburban life of a schoolteacher. Solipsistically lonely, Nora befriends--a polite term here for what is more like "stalks"--the artist-mother of one of her students; she also insinuates herself into the life of the woman's husband. That trouble will ensue is obvious to everyone but Nora, who for all her paranoia, is stunningly blind about using and being used. But in the end, maybe Nora doesn’t even care what she has suffered; at least, for once, she has lived, as she will continue to do in the minds of all of us who've read about her. --Sara Nelson