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'HIGH MAINTENANCE' | A review Location, location, location: Seeking the right man, apartment



Published: Mon, June 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The protagonist of Jennifer Belle's second novel turns to the world of real estate after her divorce.

By ROB STOUT

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

& quot;High Maintenance, & quot; by Jennifer Belle (Riverhead Books, $24.95)

In her 1996 debut novel, & quot;Going Down, & quot; Jennifer Belle managed to turn the tart-with-a-heart clich & eacute; on its ear with an unforgettable main character, an NYU drama student who puts herself through school by working as a paid escort after class.

Belle creates a protagonist similar to the lusty, lively co-ed call girl Bennington Bloom in this latest New York romp with a character who finds herself turning to the world's second oldest profession, real estate.

The heroine is Liv Kellerman, a recently divorced 26-year-old scrambling for a new life after losing her luxurious uptown digs along with all the comforts a wealthy marriage can bring.

We first find Liv, broke, with no degree and a blank calendar, perched at a caf & eacute; with the New York Times & quot;pathetically circling things like everyone else & quot; and trying to devise a plan.

She resists turning to her father, a famous clothing designer, for help and instead settles on life in a run-down Greenwich Village tenement five floors above a pungent restaurant called the & quot;King Shawarma. & quot;

Real estate: After being called a & quot;pushy New Yorker, & quot; she is inspired to enter the world of real estate, and one week and two tests later she is a graduate of the Empire Real Estate School.

Landing a commission job with a less-than-reputable broker, she sets out in the cutthroat world of selling overpriced apartments to ridiculously shallow clients, all of whom serve as perfect foils for Belle, no stranger to the narcissism of New York living.

Belle draws both Liv and the idiosyncrasies of the Manhattan real estate market so well one can't help wondering just what is fictional (Belle did a stint as a broker herself) and what may be biography.

Loose nuts: In addition to Liv's clientele, we are introduced to a supporting cast of loose nuts large enough to fill several tool boxes. There's Liv's utterly self-absorbed best friend, Violet; a shady new boyfriend, Andrew, who bites off her ear during foreplay; and Dale, Liv's lesbian-lech of a boss.

Not to mention a Swami, a sexy Pilates instructor and a blind judge with whom Liv somehow finds herself undressed.

The storyline becomes the syncopated pile up of absurdities one would expect from such a setup, and Belle's skewed take on life in the big city keeps the smirk to page ratio high.

But remove the off-beat observations, and what's left is essentially a plot that consists of little more than Liv trying to find the right man and the right apartment, although not always in that order.

Early promise: With & quot;Going Down, & quot; Belle was regularly being compared to the likes of Tama Janowitz and referred to as a rising star by Time and Entertainment Weekly, and certainly none of the bright accouterments that made "Going Down" such hot literary property has been lost here.

While that stance frees "High Maintenance" from the condemnation of & quot;Yuppie fiction, & quot; it does not make it immune from the equally banal category of & quot;Bridget Jones fiction. & quot;

More precisely, it wins a Helen Fielding award for maximum number of cultivated, pretentious dilemmas, while willfully avoiding a plot.

Granted, the novel has its mischievous strengths, but readers will have to wait for the insightful Ms. Belle to create a more balanced novel, one filled with more than just hilarity and pathos.




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