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Book Review: North Bay Road

Post Hill Press

North Bay Road by Richard Kirshenbaum, CEO of a high-profile boutique branding agency, is a first, at least for me – a beach read . . . by a guy. And he pulls it off – a story about friendship, romance, luxury clothes, and high-end living - with a narrative that has some unusual features, including an overall New York Jewish vibe, and a slightly satiric take on events on the life of the younger set.

Beach reads tend to focus on twenty or thirty-somethings. Younger readers may enjoy the fantasy, older readers, critique it. Kirshenbaum, 62, seems, delightedly, to have it both ways.

The beach in this beach read, however, is not in the Hamptons even though, when he’s not in New York, Kirshenbaum lives in Sagaponack, on the Eastern End of Long Island. The beach that figures in his new novel is in posh Miami. Were I a multimillionaire I’d probably have known that “North Bay Road ” a super-exclusive gated community, called by some the 5th Avenue of Miami.”

Well, the heroine of this romp didn’t know it either. Beautiful, unpretentious, full of humor, charm, and candor, Liz Galin (she shortened her name), grew up in middle-class Great Neck and had a successful bi-coastal life as a fashion stylist to celebs before the pandemic. She lives now in a flat on Avenue A in the East Village with no heat, barely making do. Though she’s engaged to the solid and stolid Cary, a doctor in the city, she hardly sees him – he’s constantly on call during Covid, and she’s been lovingly tending to her golden-girl widowed mother Linda, who has just finished a round of chemo. Still, Liz keeps up with friends, thrift shop finds, and her BFF, Roy, a gay makeup artist.

Then one day, out of the blue, Liz gets a call from a lawyer in Miami, Ira Reznick, who tells her she has inherited a spectacular, slightly run-down estate, Villa Pompeii on North Bay Road. It’s been left to her by a 90-something woman Liz never heard of - Elsa Sloan Barrett. The lawyer, whom Liz immediately takes to and calls Uncle Ira, is a well-known attorney for the rich and powerful, and he had been the attorney for wealthy reclusive Elsa who lived in the villa for decades. He assures Liz the will is the real deal and she should come on down. Mom says go. Roy’s already packing. Finance Cary is not interested.

Typical of a beach read, everybody in the book – straight and gay - is good-looking, and the dialogue between characters is snappy. The author’s style is to surround nouns with a plethora of adjectives and favor comparisons that sometimes pile up to numbing effect. Liz and Roy, for example, glorified help to the stars they used to serve in LA and Palm Springs, now once in Miami, find themselves, “thrust into a new “rarefied world in a singular motion like a quill pen dipped into ink and swirling on a crackled and aged and burnished parchment page,” describes their life.

Cut to North Bay Road neighbor Gabi or Gabriel Alverez, known as G –a former impoverished Puerto Rican orphan, now a multimillionaire international Latino pop idol who lives in a modern estate next door.

Amazingly, Liz has never heard of G but is annoyed with his overzealous Israeli bodyguard hired to keep screaming fans at bay. One day he calls the cops when he spots Liz and Roy dancing at the villa, thinking they’re trespassers. Liz and G’s early exchanges don’t go well, but you know what’s going to happen. What you don’t know Elsa’s backstory – told in her diary which Ira gives Liz. The diary starts in the early days of Miami and reflects Elsa’s role in family and high society. Liz reads it in spurts, while Kirshenbaum alternatively details the growing love between Liz and G.

I’m not sure the shaded opening pages of each chapter advance anything but eye strain for older readers, but the book is a lot of fun, which we can use these days, and Kirschenbaum has an instinctive feel for women of all ages.

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.