Visible City

by Tova Mirvis

For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Allegra Goodman, an intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544045545
  • ISBN-10: 0544045548
  • Pages: 256
  • Publication Date: 03/18/2014
  • Carton Quantity: 1

Also available in:

About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    “A glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life.” —O, The Oprah Magazine 


    “Read Visible City. Tova Mirvis’s graceful yet vigorous New York novel is about the half-inadvertent window-peeping that city life enables, and where it can lead.” —New York Magazine 


    After chaotic days of wrangling and soothing her young children, Nina spends her evenings spying on the quiet, contented older couple across the street. But one night, through her same window, she spies a young couple in the throes of passion. Who are these people, and what happened to her symbol of domestic happiness? Soon, Nina crosses paths with both couples on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood and, as anonymity gives way to different forms of intimacy, all begin to confront their own desires and disappointments. Shrewdly and artfully, Mirvis explores the boundaries between our own lives and the lives of others. From its lavish ghost subway stations to its hidden stained-glass windows, Visible City conjures a New York City teeming with buried treasures. 


     “An utterly perfect, deeply moving evocation of contemporary Manhattan [that] reminded me of Paula Fox and Laurie Colwin, and also those master chroniclers of the privileged classes, Wharton and Fitzgerald . . . Brilliant.” —Joanna Smith Rakoff, 


    “Mirvis’s meticulously choreographed novel surprises and moves us.” —New York Times Book Review


    Related Subjects

    Additional Assets

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    One down and two across, there she was again, a lone woman in the window, pressed close to the glass. For several days, she had been there on and off, standing in front of the window, on crutches, as if wanting to be seen. 

       Inside her own apartment, Nina stopped to watch. She was disturbed by the young woman’s presence, proprietary on behalf of the middle-aged couple whom she’d come to expect in that window, reading contentedly on their couch. The couple rarely talked to one another, but neither of them seemed bothered by the silence. Sometimes the husband disappeared from view, returning with two mugs in hand. Occasionally the wife stretched her legs toward her husband and he absent-mindedly grasped one of her feet. But once Nina had looked out as the wife started to walk away and the husband stood and pulled her closer. Caught off guard by the gesture, the woman had nearly stumbled, and to steady her, he pulled her into an embrace. To everyone’s surprise, he twirled her, and for a few minutes before resuming their quiet routine, they had danced. 

       Nina’s living room window offered no sweeping city views, no glimpse of the river or the sky, only the ornate prewar building across the street. She and Jeremy had lived in this Upper West Side apartment for five years but still hadn’t gotten around to buying shades. Even though she looked into other people’s windows, she’d convinced herself that no one was, in turn, watching them. With two sleeping kids, she couldn’t leave the apartment, but it was enough to look out at the varieties of other people’s lives. At nine in the evening the windows across the street were like the rows of televisions in an electronics store, all visible at once. Nina’s eyes flickered back and forth, but she inevitably returned to watching the same square, waiting for the couple to reappear, their quiet togetherness stirring her desire to ride out of her apartment into theirs. Hoping to find them there again, hoping that this might be the night in which they looked up from their books, she didn’t move, not until she was pulled away by the scream of a child. 

       The interminable cycle of sleeping and waking had begun. In his bedroom, her three-year-old son, Max, was thrashing, yet asleep. His eyes were open but he saw no way out of his nightmare, no path to outrun whatever pursued him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she whispered into Max’s ear, and his crying subsided. An hour later, it was Lily. From the bassinet that was squeezed into her and Jeremy’s bedroom, Nina picked her up to nurse. As soon as Lily latched on, her crying ceased. For the moment, there was nothing more her daughter needed. 

       Before either of the kids woke again, Nina went back to the window, hoping to see not just the outrageous or the extraordinary, but any truthful moment of small ordinary. During the day, every feeling came shellacked with protective plastic coating. The only language spoken was certainty. Outwardly, she was reciting the maxims along with everyone else: The kids were always delicious and she wouldn’t miss this for the world, and there was nowhere she’d rather be, and yes, it did go so fast. On the faces of other mothers, Nina sometimes caught the rumblings of discontent, but their inner lives were tucked away. Like theirs, her hands were always occupied, but while she was making dinner or bathing a child, while pushing one of them in a swing, rocking the other to sleep, her thoughts had begun to rove. 

       In the window across the way, there was still no sign of the couple reading. Once again, it was the young woman on crutches looking out, and Nina was tempted to wave. But that would end the illusion. Curtains would be pulled shut, lights switched off, the city’s windows suddenly empty and dark. Instead, Nina stayed hidden, and from the shadows, she watched as a young man dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt emerged from another room and joined the young woman. Wide awake for the first time all day, Nina craned her neck, watching as the couple began to argue, their gestures sharp, their bodies taut. The man tried to hug her but the woman wriggled from his grasp, put her hands over her face, shielding herself from what he was saying. 

       The woman turned away from the man, but he wasn’t dissuaded by her anger. He came up behind her and pressed against her. He took her crutches from her and she leaned into him as he entangled his hands in her long dark hair, ran his lips down the nape of her neck, cupped her breasts in his hands. Nina felt the woman’s resistance subsiding and she wished there was a way to draw closer to them still. 

       Surely they realized they were before an open window; surely that was part of the pleasure. Could they see her breathing their every breath, feeling their every touch? The woman turned around, her back now to Nina, as the man carefully helped her to the couch where he knelt in front of her and pulled down her pants. As their dark clothes unpeeled, giving way to pale flashes of skin, Nina was inside her own body yet inside theirs as well. The woman’s earlier reluctance was gone. She wasn’t held back by her injured foot. Her thin body wriggled out from underneath and she climbed astride him. Her back arched, her body bare, she turned her face to the window, looking directly at the spot where Nina was standing. 

       She saw the look of defiance and understood the bold exhibitionist plea. But it was something else that made her want to press herself to the glass pane and move closer still. This woman was trying to let her know, “I see you, I know you are there.” In response, she wanted to reach her hand across and loosen the constraints of her own life as well. The city had cracked momentarily apart, a slivered opening in the larger night. Nina might be home with her kids, another interminable night with Jeremy at work, but she was also outside, part of the thrumming city. Nina waited for the reading couple to emerge from some back room where they’d been hiding and join the younger couple on their couch. She waited to see everyone’s inner thoughts transmitted in flashes of light long and short. For every apartment in every building to light up. For neighbors everywhere to strip down, lay themselves bare. For the couples across the way to raise their windows and invite her in.

  • Reviews

    “In a glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life, a lonely New York City woman uses her son’s toy binoculars to spy on couples whose intimacy she craves.” — O, The Oprah Magazine 


    “Mirvis’s meticulously choreographed novel surprises and moves us. She shows the city for what it is behind all its windows and walls: a vast constellation of those ‘truthful moments’ her heroine seeks, as numerous as the stars.”  — New York Times Book Review 


    “A complex novel about intersecting lives . . . [that] paints a wry, funny portrait of an Upper West Side in turmoil, where harried mothers endlessly ponder their skills at ‘parenting’ . . . What makes Visible City interesting is Mirvis’s humane, intelligent perception of the emotional lives of her characters.” — Wall Street Journal 


    “Read Visible City. Mirvis’s graceful yet vigorous New York novel is about the half-inadvertent window-peeping that city life enables, and where it can lead.” — New York Magazine 


    “Both a paean and a lament for a world contained within one neighborhood . . . [Visible City] brilliantly unfurls connections that overlap and intersect between strangers and lovers . . . Arresting.” — Jewish Daily Forward 


    “Mirvis won me over with her empathy with her characters, whose inner lives she probes with subtle insight and style in Visible City . . . Achingly well told.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune 


    “In this story of three unfulfilled couples living in Manhattan, Mirvis captures a prevalent inner struggle: the desire for change versus the fear of the unknown . . . Through these characters’ feelings of fear, regret, and discontent, I was reminded never to lose sight of what brings me happiness.” — Real Simple, a Best Book of 2014 


    “Such is Mirvis’s finesse and insight that she leaves the reader completely sympathetic with each character’s dilemmas . . . Visible City is a beautifully rendered novel that takes on art, parenting, betrayal and the nature of love.” — Shelf Awareness 


    “Mirvis writes tenderly of love and loneliness, chance encounters and tough decisions. She captures the competitive edge of mothers so devoted to their kids’ enrichment and, also, their own buried feelings of desperation. With humor, she gets the details right . . . [and] masterfully renders life along upper Broadway and Riverside Park.” — Jewish Week 


    “By the time she has knitted up all the delicate threads of her story, Mirvis reveals that freedom often involves the acceptance of responsibility, rather than simply casting off the fetters that bind us to daily life. Through Nina’s eyes, she offers a radiant vision of her characters’ newly discovered liberation and of the infinitely complex, extraordinary city in which that kind of reinvention can come to feel like a possibility every day.” — 


    “Mirvis writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers . . . In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvis elicits the reader’s sympathy for her characters’ conflicting desires.” — Publishers Weekly 


    “Dark, witty . . . [This] comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacy’s limitations.” — Kirkus Reviews