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).
"A rich evocation of its time and place... Simultaneously a realist exploration of a particular milieu, an illustration of the changing roles and possibilities for women at that time, and a series of thoughtful musings on the nature of companionship and platonic love, Earl and Bette's story is also a satisfying revenge narrative and a portrait of an unexpected but vital friendship." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Style and setting allow beauty to intrude on this story of love, loss, and how low one might stoop to right a wrong...It testifies to the elegant construction of the novel that it can balance the hopes of an entire era on the backs of a fragile relationship and leave no doubt as to its resilience. Jarring and beautiful, this is a modern classic." —Kirkus (starred review)
"Plot twists keep the pages turning until the very last, and the cast of characters are engaging—unusual in the most refreshing ways. Sarah Schulman has given us a finely tuned, clever, and remarkably contemporary historical novel." —Lambda Literary Review
"Vivid and moving. Novels about the past that can celebrate it with intelligence rather than nostalgia are rare and are themselves to be celebrated." —Samuel R. Delany, author of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
"The author's subjects and style exist outside of the dominant narratives of US literature and will appeal to readers of contemporary literary fiction looking for something new." —School Library Journal
"A deep, smart, and satisfying novel." —Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman
"This novel is book club gold—weighty dilemmas, unforgettable characters, and a roller-coaster plot!" —Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
"The psychological insights Schulman shares with artful simplicity will shatter your heart. A masterpiece." —Michelle Tea, author of How to Grow Up