Super in the City: A Novel
FIRST, THE QUICKIE OVERVIEW
Super in the City, a Bantam Dell original trade paperback, is an urban caper about a Walter Mitty-ish young woman who becomes the super of her parents' Greenwich Village building. A love letter to New York City by a third generation native, the book also captures what New York Times columnist David Brooks termed the odyssey years -- those years of professional indecision and wandering that plague people in their 20s, 30s and beyond.
Inspired in teensy part by Kafka, Defoe, and Dickens, and in large part by James Thurber, Super in the City is everything you want in a smart, quick, delicious read.
NEXT, THE PRAISE
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:
"One should not simply read Super in the City; one should gobble it up like candy. This is particularly intelligent candy, mind you ó but don't let that stop you from indulging in a big old sack of fun."
Wall Street Journal:
"Witty and piquant."
San Jose Mercury News:
"Part mystery, part screwball comedy, part sexcapade... and all entertaining."
ď...gleefully unpretentious...gallops at full speed from the very first line... undoubtedly smarter and funnier than most other girls-in-the-city novels.Ē
ď[Uviller has]...a polished lead character, an ear for snappy dialogue and a propulsive storytelling style...Funny, enjoyable caper about a dirty job and the unlikely young woman who takes it on.Ē
"Shockingly good from the get-go... Zephyrís desperation, optimism, devotion, romanticism, quirkiness, depression, and resourcefulness come together to form a genuine character that truly shines....deliciously addictive... surprisingly meaningful, romantic, and fun...In Uviller, the genres of chick lit and mystery have found a new, evocative voice...My faith in fiction marketed to women has been restored.Ē -- Kelly Skinner
ďUvillerís prose style throughout is confident, funny, often sexy and wonderfully insightful...an impressive delight.Ē - Alan Cranis
"Daphne Uviller's new novel is not so much chick lit as lite fiction for the feminist-minded reader...This is fun fiction. It flies. And it's really funny. Best of all, Uviller has an amazing imagination that's reflected in Zephyr's frequent flights of fantasy through out the novel...Feminist and fast-moving." - Courtney Martin
And Now, Meet Zephyr Zuckerman...
In a city brimming with opportunities for heroism, twenty-seven-year-old Zephyr Zuckerman has often fantasized about committing acts of bravery that would make front-page news. Now she may get her big break ó though it may require plunging a few toilets. When the superintendent of her parents' Greenwich Village brownstone is led away in handcuffs, unemployed Zephyr takes over his post and unleashes her inner sleuth. As she discovers titillating secrets about her tenants, she finds herself with a new reality far more intriguing than her imagination.
Soon, Zephyr has sussed out wrongs that stretch from losers on the Internet to art fraud and an international crime ring. The mob thinks she's in the FBI, and the FBI thinks she's in the mob ó a predicament she needs to clear up fast. But perhaps not before a cute, surly exterminator helps her solve the mystery of what to do with the rest of her life.
Q: Were you actually the super of a building?
A: For ten long years. In exchange for only paying maintenance (i.e. not market rate) on an apartment in the building my family co-owned, I was the super for the whole place.
Q: Was it worth it?
A: Definitely. I didnít have to suffer a Mrs. Hannaham living downstairs, the way Zephyr does in my novel. My parents were pretty easy tenant/owners. Iím not saying I jumped for joy every time my mother called to say the heat wouldnít go on or wouldnít go off or was rattling the walls like a felon with a tin cup, but I accepted it as part of the job. And I got to live in the greatest apartment a 23-year-old government employee could ever hope to occupy.
Q: Any particularly bad experiences?
A: Once, coming home after doing some errands, I was carrying my college diploma, which Iíd just had framed. But I was also carrying one of those industrial broom-and-dustpan jobbies used for sweeping the sidewalk. And I thought, itís pretty clear which is the more useful item at this moment. That was a little depressing.
Q: Any bad experiences being super?
A: The heat went out one freezing Christmas Eve, while the restaurant downstairs was hosting a private party. That was bad, but not as bad as having to file the taxes for the building every year. I dreaded that. Because I wasnít just the super, hanging out with the Roto Rooter guy in two inches of poop in the basement after a flood, but I was also the managing agent.
Q: Youíre speaking in the past tense, but you still manage the building, right? You and your husband and two kids now live in your parentsí apartment.
A: Please donít remind me how unfar Iíve come. I mean, I love, absolutely love that my children are fourth generation Greenwich Village. I donít love that Iím still blindly filing arcane paperwork with the cityís Department of Finance. But in some ways, Iíve been promoted Ė Iím not technically a super anymore, but rather, the landlord. Funny, though, Iím doing exactly the same things...
Q: So where did you get the ideas for the characters and shady dealings that go on at 287 West 12th?
Like any writer worth her salt, I lied, cheated, and stole. Roxana Boureau was inspired by Daniel Defoeís final novel, Roxana Ė subtle, right? Ė which Iíd been rereading around the time I was dreaming up Zephyrís story. Itís not his greatest work, but I was intrigued by the story of this woman who falls from the grace of marriage to basically being a concubine. It was just so damned juicy. Plus, a friend of mine who lived on the Upper West Side years ago watched the police raid an apartment upstairs from her, and discovered that there was a tiny brothel being run out of it. Honestly, Iíve wanted to write about that incident for so long that I canít remember if the details Iíve used in this book are invented or based on what my friend told me.
Q: What about Zephyrís circle of friends, who figure prominently in Super in the City?
A: Like Zephyr, I do have a close group of friends from high school for whom, to an almost gruesome extent, no topic is taboo. Used to be blowjobs, now itís baby bowel movements. Like Zephyrís friends, my coterie is down-to-earth. Donít get me wrong Ė I was one of Sex and the Cityís most avid fans, thought the show was utterly delicious Ė but I wanted to write about this other part of New York City that few people seem to know about. Thereís a group of us natives who canít afford Prada, donít slather on a ton of makeup, donít drink $20 cocktails til 4am, and actually consider ourselves really happy and entertained. Now I sound preachy.
Q: Yeah, a little. What about Mrs. Hannaham and Gregory Samson? Where did they come from?
A: I told you, Iím a thief. Mrs. Hannaham is a totally transparent riff on Dickensí Mrs. Havisham. Sheís a widow who dresses all in white, only in my book she haunts the basement apartment rather than the attic. And Gregory Samson, the exterminator with whom Zephyr has a love-hate-love relationship, is a play on Gregor Samsa, the protagonist who turns into an insect usually interpreted as a roach in Kafkaís The Metamorphosis.
Q: Defoe, Kafka, Dickens Ė are you sure this is a light read?
I promise. I reread those guys (and women too) for inspiration, not imitation. Believe me: I am no Kafka. But I do like to think this falls into the smart light read category.
Q: Why do you think readers connect so easily to Zephyr?
A: Like a lot of women of her age and class, Zephyr suffers from an overabundance of opportunities and expectations Ė her own and other peopleís. Youthful indecision is lingering longer and longer -- in 2007, NY Times columnist David Brooks coined the term "odyssey phase" of life -- and while I would never place it at the top of the worldís woes, itís not a comfortable state to be in. Women, in particular, are not just expected to balance careers and motherhood and marriage, but theyíre supposed to have interesting, meaningful careers, and their marriages are supposed to be deep and thriving, and theyíre supposed to get down on the floors of their non-TV homes and do arts and crafts with their kids. Zephyrís so paralyzed by the whole prospect that she canít even get out of the starting gate.
Q: Is Zephyr also inspired by someone in literature? Or is she based on you?
A: More than any other character in the novel, Zephyr really is a tribute to a fictional man whom I love and sympathize with: In 1939, James Thurber published his famous short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," in The New Yorker. In that tale, a hen-pecked husband runs errands while his wife gets her hair done. Thatís the whole plot. But in his imagination he is, by turns, the captain of a Navy hydroplane, a brilliant surgeon, a bomber pilot, and the heroic victim of a firing squad. Iíve always felt very sympathetic towards, and inordinately fond of that character. Super in the City is partly a tribute to that seminal story: Zephyr is a 27-year-old, new millennial, female Walter Mitty.
Q: Is that because you, like Mitty, are discontent with your life and looking for escape?
A: Not at all! I have a much better deal than poor Walter Mitty. But I, too, have a runaway imagination, the way he does, and the way Zephyr does. Iíll be on line at the supermarket and start imagining what Iíd do if someone held up the store. Or I imagine hustling some worthy celebrity to the ground during an attempted assassination.
Q: That just sounds paranoid.
A: Tomato, tomahto. But actually, I have an overdeveloped flight reflex in the face of life-threatening situations. Iíd be the first person hitting the ground in a holdup. Thatís probably why I need such a rich fantasy life.
Q: Uh, do you frequently find yourself in life-threatening situations?
My husband and I have found ourselves surrounded by active lava flow in Hawaii, facing down a pre-historic bird intent on disemboweling us in Australia, and we occasionally happen upon black bears while hiking in upstate New York. Every single time, my impulse is to run without considering the consequences.
Q: You didnít use any of those scenarios in this book.
A: If you look in my hard drive, in a file called ďZephyr cuts,Ē you will find a poorly written scene of Zephyr hiking upstate.
Q: How about the men in Super in the City? Was there a Hayden Briggs in your life? A guy who repeatedly turned your world upside down?
A: Letís just say Hayden Ė and Gregory, too Ė are amalgams of men Iíve dated plus a healthy dose of fictionalization. I take the physical attributes of one guy I knew, add some personality traits of another guy, and throw in the way I felt about yet another guy and thatís how I assemble a character. But yes, Iíve suffered acute cases of obsession, the way Zephyr does.
Q: How does your husband feel about you mining your past romances?
A: I told him right off the bat: look, I canít use you in my work. Boy and girl meet, fall in love, their families get along, they get married, and they sail along, still in love, managing everything from a dying parent to a tantrumy toddler with relative equanimity. Totally boring story. He was extremely understanding.
Q: You mentioned you were a government employee after college. What did you do?
A: I worked for a law enforcement agency that investigates crime and corruption in the New York City public school system. It was the most fun job Iíve ever had (with apologies to Time Out New York magazine).
Q: Without giving away the ending of Super in the City too much, will your experiences at the law enforcement agency figure into another novel featuring Zephyr?
A: Iíve grown to love Zephyr and would love to see her foible-ridden search for herself, a career, and love continue, dustpan still in hand.
Super in the City is a Bantam Trade Paperback Original.
Foreign and audio:
Look for Super in the City in Germany (published by Heyne Verlag, see above left) and in Spain (published by Esencia, part of the Planeta group, see above left)! You can also hear Super on CD, courtesy of Random House Books.