Really good review over at Alternating Current for Condo. I feel very “privileged” to receive this type of attention.
Condominium, by Daniel Falatko, is a partly comedic and lighthearted, somewhat existential and dramatic, novel about a week in the life of a couple who move into their dream million-dollar high-rise condominium with its Brooklyn skyline view over the East River. The story alternates points of view and experience between Charles and Sarah as they navigate multiple issues with their new lifestyle, including struggles in their career, a strange new neighbor, challenging relationships with friends, and recreational drug usage.
The alternating points of view work well for this story as a way for us to learn more about the protagonists, especially things they may not share with each other or with the reader in first-person point of view. They begin with voices in common, but the more their plotlines unfold, the more they definitely develop different experiences with the condo. Giving voice to each of them also allows the story to show the difficulty for couples in developing the “us” and allows the individuals to be more complex, as well.
Life at their new dream condo is never not weird. They quickly meet a strange neighbor who seems to be observing them a little too much. His lack of boundaries makes them uncomfortable, adds mystery to the story, and drives a lot of the tension, addressing the question of just what did they get themselves into? Every time I thought the Creepy Neighbor storyline might fall into the trap of cliché, it went in an unexpected direction that gave this book its unique signature.
Although a lot of the story addresses the Money Can’t Buy Happiness idea, more is happening here.
I guess you start to think of all this luxury, assuming it will seep its way into your marrow, make your life luxurious, but really it’s a bummer to find you still don’t get enough sleep and cobwebs still form on ceilings and your face still breaks out and your man still smells up the bathroom and you still need to get super stoned just to relax for an hour on the couch and not think about anything.
If the condo doesn’t bring them happiness, it leaves the question what will the condo bring? What will bring happiness?
The adjustment to the new life puts them all out of sorts. Charles finds he is too scared of heights to enjoy his expensive balcony. Sarah has problems getting comfortable in any of the other rooms. They have contradictory emotions about the view. For Charles,
Now that he had seen a view from the highest precipice, the pinnacle, he was disappointed to find that all other views were rendered limp and detached. He now owned a better view than all of this. It had blotted out his world.
This is while Sarah
[…] thought of someone watching them from over in Manhattan, from Stuy Town with a high-powered telescope, entangled stick figures swallowed up in the massiveness of a waterfront tower. She wondered if perhaps that person would enjoy this more than she did.
They find that location change doesn’t equate to life change. This would be true regardless of whether the move were ‘moving on up’—They are the same people wherever they move.
Monday brought things crashing down, as always. It doesn’t matter if you’re heading to work from a luxury high-rise or a trailer park, you are still heading to work.
A common idea in all of this is how difficult it is for them to shed skins. Charles has an occasional drug habit he can’t quite shake. In fact, Sarah alternates between wanting him to quit and thinking it’s the thing that keeps him interesting. He has an obsession with a rockstar who died years earlier. This is similar to folks stopping their lives every April 5th to mourn the death of Kurt Cobain. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
During a comedic peak of the novel, at a party unlike any others, an outsider challenges them:
“Aren’t you people in your thirties?” she hissed to him, a crossing guard scolding a proud jaywalker.
“Late twenties,” he corrected. “This is the demographic you shoot for here at Waterfront Tower(s), no? Young moneyed, edgy, hip. Ready for action on the Williamsburg frontier. Well, here it is. Sorry if you can’t handle it.”
They are on a tricky aging line. They just can’t quite shed their twenties and embrace a thirties slowdown, regardless of the troubles it gives them. It’s their driving question: When do we give up the kicking and screaming, and just go quietly? Not yet, they answer.
There are aspects of this that are lighthearted. It uses hyperbole and humor, and although the stakes may be emotionally serious for Charles and Sarah, nothing that large or permanent is happening. That’s fine. The novel is intentionally interested in smaller issues rather than larger ones, and does so with an effective touch where scope is not a positive or negative quality. One thing that it risks, however, is conjuring but mostly ignoring the specter of privilege. There are moments when the characters observe the geographical lines between rich and poor. There are some comedic situations with a food cart vendor and with a Mexican man who Sarah invites to the climactic party, but they stay on the comedic surface. Is Monday truly the same regardless of whether you are leaving a luxury high-rise or a trailer park? Although certainly never told from anything but an honest voice of its characters, it ends up making the story occasionally sound like the First World Problems meme. The characters grow from certain realities about their dream condo; they may learn the limitations of money in the pursuit of happiness, but I’m not sure they ever leave the context of their privilege. Maybe that’s a missed opportunity. Maybe that’s just a different story. If we stay in their perspective, it’s a great read.