In Claire Messud's new novel, "The Woman Upstairs," the narrator, Nora Eldridge burns with anger. "How angry am I?" she asks at the very start of the book. "You don't want to know."
But we soon find out. Nora gave up her dream of being an artist and mother long, and finds herself in mid-life, alone, "a nice girl," caring for an an elderly father and working as a thirrd grade teacher in Cambridge.
Then her life collides with a fascinating and cosmopolitan family — an Italian artist with a Lebanese professor husband and a beautiful son, who lands in Nora's class. They have everything that she doesn't — family, glamour, confidence and success. She falls in love with them, and the story becomes a complex and troubling journey through Nora's interior life.
The Guardian "The theme of falling in love with a family is common among young writers, but with the distance of a more experienced practitioner, it feels like fresh territory. Living "the opiated husk of a life, the treadmill of the ordinary, a cage built of convention and consumerism and obligation and fear", Nora appoints the Shahids her saviours as her attachment develops an obsessive flavour reminiscent of Zoë Heller's lonely narrator in Notes on a Scandal."
Slate "Why is likable worse than, say, boring, or predictable, or hackneyed or obscure? When did beloved become a bad thing? And, now that likablehas become the latest code employed by literary authors to tell their best-selling brethren that their work sucks, is there any hope for the few, the shamed, the creators and consumers of likable female protagonists?"
This segment aired on June 10, 2013.