Renters Hell Notes | The Star of East Hampton

“Three bedrooms, shared bathroom”
Eileen Obser
Sunbury Press, $ 14.95

Anyone who’s rented a room, in the Hamptons or in Toledo, Ohio, for that matter, will identify with much of “Three Rooms, Shared Bath,” Eileen Obser’s new novel.

It is a light and airy book, at only 151 pages, with a beautiful cover depicting a typical East Hampton house and the flora that accompany it. The chapter titles are entertaining and related to tenant protocol.

This is the second book from Mrs. Obser, an East Hamptoner. Her first, “Only You,” was a memoir, and I’m not sure this one isn’t also fictional, other than a seemingly obligatory love interest strung to create a necessary narrative arc and tension (is- what will she bring the guy in at the end?). This keeps it from being just a collection of humorous stories about bad tenants.

Ms. Obser is clearly an authority on her subjects: A) room rentals and B) East Hampton. The characters are so well drawn and believable that it’s hard to imagine they’re not based on real people. But, in the end, who cares? The tenants (all young, egocentric, inconsiderate, accomplices and broke) and their interactions with the “landlady”, Diana, are invaluable.

When I buy a book or go to a sporting event or a concert, I want sparkle. I want to see, well. . . what I can’t do. For example, in the first 30 or so pages of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers, you realize that you are in the hands of a professional writer, a master. Likewise, David Sedaris has a story in which he tells how as a child he was hooked on licking doorknobs and light switches – you’re enthralled in seconds.

Here there is very little, if any, metaphors or comparisons or descriptive adjectives. Aside from perfect grammar, which can be hard to come by these days, Ms. Obser has two strengths that set her apart. One is its ability to create a fluid and engaging dialogue. Whether it’s a gift or a cultivated craft, it’s there. When Diana chats / talks / negotiates / implores her tenants to follow the ground rules, the words fly off the page like in a Noel Coward play. And that’s what turns the pages.

The other strength is his love of the simple beauty of the landscape, which (and let me fall back on the cliché) is contagious. Gratitude radiates throughout this little book.

Diana (I guess she’s in her 50s) makes an effort to be happy; she chooses it. And beware, there is something to be sad and angry about. Losing her husband and life partner to terrible pancreatic cancer, for example. She has children, but they live far away in California. Nevertheless, it remains resolutely positive. Whether it’s a simple stroll down Newtown Lane with an old friend, a dessert in Cittanuova, or a trip to Maidstone Beach, Diana takes the time to appreciate it all and often expresses her gratitude for be alive in the Hamptons.

Mrs. Obser takes us back to a quieter East Hampton. Remember the swarms of monarch butterflies at Maidstone Beach? They would swallow you up while you were riding your bike, but not so much. It’s like that.

The book is set in the summer of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, which, along with the elections, is a running theme. It anchors the story in time, but every time the book moves away from the tension in the house, my interest wanes.

Diana knows the tenants. She’s up to their whims and tricks, and it’s all covered here – not doing the dishes, removing other tenants’ wet clothes from the dryer and putting them on the floor, inexplicably turning off dehumidifiers, leaving horrible rotten stuff in the fridge. , no cleaning the refrigerator, no cleaning at all, poor parking, tenants who do not post a deposit or refuse to move out, lovers who do not follow the one person per room policy or the no noise policy or music after 11pm (maybe one should have just been no fornication.)

The book has a few flaws. Some of them are considered too mundane. There’s a paragraph about Diana making a ham, tomato and cheese sandwich that’s just pointless, as pointless as someone taking a picture of her food and posting it on Facebook. And Diana’s close friend, the sarcastic reporter, is a bit annoying, but he serves a purpose by exploring Diana’s puzzles.

He suggests that she stop renting altogether, and that might not be a bad idea. (I used to rent rooms to kids when I had a rent-controlled apartment on Park Avenue. Eventually I got rid of all the tenants and started housing dogs instead. I had a business card made up: “You might never live on Park Avenue, but your dog can. “)

Another drawback, but far from being decisive, is that the book is not contemporary. Admittedly, it is a timepiece that takes place on the eve of the Obama election, but the subject, room rental, is very topical. In fact, with Covid, rent waivers and rent deferrals, deductions and squatter rights have become buzzwords even in the Tony Hamptons. Don’t look for any of that here.

The Airbnb genre is crowded. Stephen McCauley recently broke new ground with “My Ex-Life,” a novel about a woman who, after breaking up with her second husband, begins renting rooms in her quaint and beloved home. Not only does she lose her privacy, as she is forced to deal with countless emails and texts from customers, but she absorbs the anger of the locals all the time, who accuse her of ruining the hotel business and just about everything. the rest of the city.

The point is, the publisher, Sunbury Press of Mechanicsburg, Pa., Had the nerve to go into this genre, and I’m happy to report that “Three Rooms, Shared Bath” stands out from the best of them. .

Jeff Nichols’ latest book is “And Then They All Threw Up: Why I Never Should Have Been a Montauk Groupon Charter Boat Captain”. He lives in Springs.

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