A “captivating, perceptive, and empathic novel of New York” told with “panache and mischievous ebullience” (Booklist, starred review).
In this retelling of Balzac’s Parisian classic Cousin Bette, Sarah Shulman spins her revenge story in Mad Men–era New York City. Bette, a lonely spinster, has worked as a secretary at an ad agency for thirty years. Her only real friend is her apartment neighbor Earl, a black, gay actor with a miserable job in a meatpacking plant. Shamed and disowned by their families, both find refuge in New York and in their friendship.
Everything changes when Hortense, Bette’s wealthy niece from Ohio, moves to the city to pursue her own acting career. Her arrival reminds Bette of her scandalous past and the estranged Midwestern family she left behind. When Hortense’s calculating ambitions cause a rift between Bette and Earl, Bette uses her connections in the television ad world to destroy those who have wronged her.
Textured with the grit and gloss of midcentury Manhattan in the days before the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements, The Cosmopolitans “balance[s] the hopes of an entire era on the backs of a fragile relationship. . . . Jarring and beautiful, this is a modern classic” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).