The Address

Written by Fiona Davis
Review by Val Adolph

The concept underlying The Address offers a great deal of potential. The Dakota, an iconic New York building built in the 1880s, has a long and star-studded history. It offered luxurious living to celebrities such as Leonard Bernstein, Rudolph Nureyev, and Lauren Bacall. It has many stories to tell.

The writer sets part of her novel as the Dakota opens, in the 1880s, with the arrival of its ‘managerette,’ Mrs Sara Smythe, and part a century later, when decorator Bailey Camden has been hired to completely remodel the interior. The focus of the narrative, though, is the Dakota itself, an address with cachet—magnificently designed and created to offer every amenity to its wealthy occupants.

But behind the Dakota’s elegant façade lies the story of the architect, Theodore Camden, his wife and family, and his mistress, Sara Smythe. It is a story of love, hate, ambition and even, apparently, madness. And it is a story that Bailey, a century later, finds herself unraveling as she redesigns the interior of the Dakota despite the whims of its part-owner, her cousin Melinda.

The author juxtaposes 1985 New York life, crowded and fueled by alcohol and drugs, with life in Sara Smythe’s New York. Details of both periods are well researched. However the plot holds few surprises, and its people—I hesitate to call them characters—plod through their appointed roles. Much of the dialog seems stilted, and reactions are more formulaic than emotional. Even the scenes in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum feel narrative rather than visceral.

The Dakota itself is the strongest, most multi-dimensional character in the book. But in the end it is merely a setting, a location within which people are engaged in the endless struggle for survival. I should like to have felt that struggle.