Perhaps what makes this novel so frightening is that it could happen to anyone.  The devious plan is so deceptively simple that it barely registers as out of place.

The narrative alternates between two feisty heroines — Mina, an elderly resident of the quiet Higgs Point neighborhood in the Bronx and Evie, a young, talented, workaholic curator for a New York historical society.  Evie has managed to escape her paltry childhood surroundings and all its unfortunate memories.  She has crafted a life, albeit with blinders on, in Manhattan.  It’s not so far as the crow flies, but it’s worlds away from her beginnings.  When Evie’s mom suffers another alcohol-induced health crash, her sister Ginger insists it’s “Evie’s turn” to deal with crisis.  In truth, both sisters are mentally and emotionally exhausted by their mother’s continued failings.  Evie guiltily accepts her role and shuffles off to Higgs Point.

Meanwhile, Mina Yetner is the quintessential cranky old lady.  But she is sharp as a tack and uses her busybody skills to help others in the neighborhood.  When her neighbor, Evie’s mother, is taken away in an ambulance she is the one who calls the daughters.  Mina and Evie strike up an unlikely partnership while Evie begins to clean up her mother’s house and sort estate matters.

I was reminded of Gaslight while reading this.  Because of the dueling points-of-view, the reader is left to wonder where the reality is.  Is there senility at work?  Or perhaps the protagonist just isn’t seeing what they want to ignore?  The suspense continually builds even as the characters begin to discover pieces of the puzzle.

July 1945
July 1945

Ephron works in crucial historical details that bring this book out of the realm of cheap thrills.  For example, Evie’s current exhibit at the museum includes a display related to the B52 bomber that flew into the Empire State Building.  And there is a minor thread surrounding Betty Lou Oliver who survived the 75-story drop when elevator cables broke.  These things really happened and Ephron uses them to great effect.  They make the story much, much richer.

The setting, Higgs Point, is not exactly that, but it is based on a real area.  Harding Park did once have an amusement park (another subplot) at the turn-of-the-century.  Here is a great post from Forgotten NY on the area.  By tying the story so closely to reality, it is all the more frightening.

The novel is an approachable one and is easily read in a quiet afternoon.  I look forward to more by Hallie Ephron.

Many thanks to the kind folks at William Morrow for the advanced review copy.

ISBN: 9780062117601
ISBN10: 0062117602
Imprint: William Morrow
On Sale: 4/2/2013
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 304; $25.99
Ages: 18 and Up

One thought on “REVIEW: THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN by Hallie Ephron”

Say something!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.