Title: Ms. Demeanor
Author: Elinor Lipman
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
From one of America’s most beloved contemporary novelists, a delicious and witty story about love under house arrest
Jane Morgan is a valued member of her law firm–or was, until a prudish neighbor, binoculars poised, observes her having sex on the roof of her NYC apartment building. Police are summoned, and a punishing judge sentences her to six months of home confinement. With Jane now jobless and rootless, trapped at home, life looks bleak. Yes, her twin sister provides support and advice, but mostly of the unwelcome kind. When a doorman lets slip that Jane isn’t the only resident wearing an ankle monitor, she strikes up a friendship with fellow white-collar felon Perry Salisbury. As she tries to adapt to life within her apartment walls, she discovers she hasn’t heard the end of that tattletale neighbor–whose past isn’t as decorous as her 9-1-1 snitching would suggest. Why are police knocking on Jane’s door again? Can her house arrest have a silver lining? Can two wrongs make a right?
It’s been years since I read an Eleanor Lipman novel, but when I stumbled across Ms. Demeanor at a book store and got a look at the cover, I just couldn’t resist.
In Ms. Demeanor, Jane Morgan owns a fabulous New York apartment in a posh building, has a successful law career, and a slightly overbearing but very loving twin sister. When Jane has a spontaneous hook-up with an associate from her firm late one night… on the roof of her building!! … her neatly ordered life comes crashing down. The two are arrested for public indecency after a neighbor calls the police. Instead of a slap-on-the-wrist fine (which her associate gets), she’s sentenced to six months of home confinement, along with an ankle monitor to make sure she doesn’t leave the premises.
She loses her job and has her license to practice law suspended, so ends up amusing herself by creating TikToks where she follows recipes from centuries-old cookbooks. (Boiled onions as a dish? Um, no thanks.) Jane is actually a good cook, though, and one thing leads to another — meaning that she meets the other ankle-monitor-wearing building resident and is pressured (by her twin Jackleen) into catering dinners for him three times a week.
Jane and Perry have an awkward business arrangement, which soon turns into more of a friendship. After all, if she’s bringing him meals and sticking around to take home the dishes, she might as well stay for a glass of wine, right? And maybe eat dinner with him too? And… more?
Meanwhile, the nosy neighbor from the penthouse across the street, who originally called 911 after seeing Jane’s midnight tryst through binoculars, ends up having more to her story than Jane originally thought. Soon enough, there’s a mysterious death, stuck-up Polish siblings with expired visas, and a love-starved endodontist to deal with. (I know, it sounds like a lot).
The tone of Ms. Demeanor is smart and flippant. Jane is very blunt about just about everything, can talk her way in or out of all sorts of questionable situations, and becames TikTok famous for her no-holds-barred life narratives that accompany her cooking videos.
The plot zips along with some truly ridiculous twists and turns. It’s all in good fun (but — warning — be careful not to injure yourself from too much eye-rolling).
It took me a bit to get into the writing style, which initially threw me off with some unusual phrasing choices, but I quickly got into the rhythm and started to appreciate Jane and Jackleen’s gift with banter.
I tried to suspend judging the characters too harshly — but it was hard at points not to scoff at the relative ease of home confinement in a luxury co-op. Obviously, this book is intended to be humorous, but I couldn’t help but think how dramatically different this story would be if the characters involved didn’t have quite as enormous an amount of privilege as Jane and Perry do.
Ms. Demeanor really can’t be taken too seriously. It’s fun and entertaining, and a very quick read. I’d recommend this as a nice break in between heavier reads.