There’s nothing like a great New York City novel, and praise be to...Lee Conell, whose exquisite debut gets to the heart of the city via the super of an Upper West Side co-op and his frustratingly underemployed daughter ... The Party Upstairs will make you laugh even as you grapple with how money defines many of its characters’ most significant choices. As chapters alternate between Ruby’s and Martin’s perspectives, Conell’s realistic dialogue and thoughtful plotting take us deep into the often unexpressed shame linked to financial uncertainty. The Party Upstairs is an on-the-nose, of-the-moment dark comedy that delves deep into issues of wealth, gender and privilege in the most iconic of American cities.
... skirts the periphery of self-awareness, her characters experiencing moments of insight but struggling to achieve clear epiphanies. Paralyzed by self-consciousness, Ruby and Martin express themselves most authentically when they act on impulse, moments of sublimated violence and petty theft unleashing pent-up aggravation ... Perhaps the lesson at the heart of this sharp and affecting novel is that sometimes destruction, in moderation, can be creative. Ruby and Martin need to figure out how much to destroy, leaving enough room and wreckage for rebuilding.
Like so many social chroniclers before her, Lee Conell has a keen eye for the grand delusions and small daily hypocrisies of a 'classless' America; if her take isn't quite a revelation, it's still brisk, canny fun—an upstairs-downstairs for the modern age.
In the dioramas, Lee Conell gives us another nifty narrative metaphor—for the framing of her story, and for the story she’s telling ... If this clever novel is occasionally uneasily balanced between social satire and emotional seriousness, so in a sense are its players, forever enacting the basement/penthouse comedy-drama of class consciousness, never letting on that it’s pretend until it’s too late.
Conell’s smashing debut creates a vivacious microcosm of life inside a tony Manhattan co-op building ... Conell’s talent for storytelling, wicked sense of humor, and compassion for her characters will leave readers eager for her next book.
Conell’s debut perfectly captures the co-op’s ecosystem and the ways class informs every interaction, reaction, and relationship inside it. While the plot sometimes dips a little too far into the absurd, Conell’s writing remains cleareyed, darkly funny, and deeply empathetic. A slow-burning debut that keenly dissects privilege, power, and the devastation of unfulfilled expectations.