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Cobble Hill

Review

Cobble Hill

Cecily von Ziegesar, the bestselling author of the Gossip Girl series, returns with COBBLE HILL, a novel that revolves around four families dealing with fresh starts, unrequited crushes and failing marriages.

Cobble Hill is known for being one of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhoods, a place where cool moms and dads raise their equally cool kids, and hip eateries crop up according to trends and Instagram-ability. Here, von Ziegesar focuses on the Littles, the Clarkes, the Parks and the Paulsens. The Littles are Stuart, Mandy and their elementary school-age son. Stuart was once a member of a rock band called Three Blind Mice, but with a wife and kid, he is now much more engaged with domestic pursuits. However, he continues to keep up with his former bandmates, both of whom are still living the rock star life. The Clarkes are Roy, a bestselling novelist with writer’s block; Wendy, his magazine editor wife; and Shy, their appropriately named shy daughter. The Littles and Clarkes make up the meat of the novel, while school nurse Peaches Park and her family, along with the Paulsens, flesh out the story.

"Von Ziegesar examines everything from trendy eateries to fancy schools with a keen eye, and her wit flowed through her characters’ observations in a way that was as self-aware as it was funny."

Each member of these families is facing some sort of conundrum. Stuart is married to a former model, Mandy, who has not left her bed in months, claiming a diagnosis of MS. When his attempts to help her go unnoticed and unappreciated, he develops a crush on his son’s school nurse, Peaches. As he tries to flirt his way closer to her, we watch as Mandy, desperate to come clean about her fake diagnosis, deals with her new fuller figure, the real reason she has taken to her bed. At the Clarke house, Roy’s writer’s block is a well-known and much-argued point of fact, but Wendy, too, is facing some serious struggles at work: delivering edgy fashion pieces and fitting in with her hip coworkers. At the same time, Shy deals with an obsessive crush on her Latin teacher and her inability to focus on anything else, including Liam, her classmate and math tutor who is clearly in love with her.

Rounding out the cast of characters and tensions, Peaches is battling her own very serious crush on Stuart, along with her dissatisfaction with her husband’s obsession with wealth and their nerdy son who just can’t seem to fit in. Just around the corner from the Clarkes is Tupper Paulsen, an introverted, lonely designer with an enigmatic wife...who just so happens to be missing.

Written in five parts and told in a variety of voices, COBBLE HILL is a difficult novel to summarize. There is no grand narrative, but the microcosms of the characters’ individual storylines touch at surprising points, making nearly every occurence a spoiler. This is very much a character-driven novel, as the many players here push the plot forward little by little while advancing their own developments and encounters with the bizarre. While each character has a definite conflict and motive, there were so many of them that I often struggled to orient myself whenever I resumed reading. That said, taken as a whole, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and tension-filled novel that reads a lot like a grown-up Gossip Girl book. Von Ziegesar is skilled at character development and creating chaotic, practically combustible scenes of love, community and desire.

Though I do not feel like I can safely describe the plot without spoiling it, I can discuss the characters: Roy and Peaches were highlights for me, but the magic of this book is that every reader will find a different protagonist to root for. As a reader, I loved watching Roy work through his writer’s block and grapple with the ins and outs of the publishing world. As a woman, I appreciated Peaches and her no-nonsense attitude (and the fulfillment of her lifelong crush; who wouldn’t want to run into their celebrity crush in their own neighborhood?). Stuart was another very well-developed character who I believe readers will truly enjoy.

For all of the issues it explores, COBBLE HILL is not the deepest of books; eating disorders and mental illness are touched upon only lightly, and some of the motivations of the characters, like Mandy, were dreadfully under-explored. But this did not affect my enjoyment of the novel, which reads very much like a television program. As a light, humorous look at a pretentious Brooklyn neighborhood, it excelled. Von Ziegesar examines everything from trendy eateries to fancy schools with a keen eye, and her wit flowed through her characters’ observations in a way that was as self-aware as it was funny.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 13, 2020

Cobble Hill
by Cecily von Ziegesar

  • Publication Date: November 10, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982147032
  • ISBN-13: 9781982147037