SHELTER IN PLACE
It is the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election, and in a plush weekend house in Connecticut, an intimate group of friends, New Yorkers all, has gathered to recover from what they consider the greatest political catastrophe of their lives. They have just sat down to tea when their hostess, Eva Lindquist, proposes a dare. Who among them would be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Donald Trump? Liberal and like-minded—editors, writers, a decorator, a theater producer, and one financial guy, Eva’s husband, Bruce—the friends have come to the countryside in the hope of restoring, away from the news cycle and the post-election delirium, the bubble in which they have grown used to living. Yet with the exception of one brash and obnoxious book editor, none is willing to accept Eva’s challenge.
Shelter in Place is a novel about house and home, furniture and rooms, safety and freedom and the invidious ways in which political upheaval can undermine even the most seemingly impregnable foundations. Eva is the novel’s polestar, a woman who moves through her days accompanied by a roving, carefully curated salon. She’s a generous hostess and more than a bit of a control freak whose obsession with decorating allows Leavitt to treat us to a slyly comic look at the habitués and fetishes of the so-called shelter industry. Yet when, in her avidity to secure shelter for herself, Eva persuades Bruce to buy a grand if dilapidated apartment in Venice, she unwittingly sets off the chain of events that will propel him, for the first time, to venture outside the bubble and embark on a wholly unexpected love affair.
A comic portrait of the months immediately following the 2016 election, Shelter in Place is also a meditation on the unreliable appetites—for love, for power, for freedom—by which both our public and private lives are shaped.
ON Shelter in Place
“Sharply etched, funny and enjoyable…The novel delights in catching people in the act of being their predictable tedious selves, but Leavitt delves beneath these surface social constructs. Those glimpses of depth and grief, combined with the mood of the moment when I read the novel—late summer, pandemic—made me feel a tenderness for these hapless, all-too-familiar creatures, gathering for their fraught social occasions, never suspecting how fragile it is, how much their world is going to change.”
—Francine Prose, Book Post
“As entertaining and droll as Shelter in Place is at moments, a troubling undercurrent flows through the novel like canals through Venice. The election of He Who Must Not Be Named has shaken real-life people to their cores. Like Bruce and Eva, many are left to question the very fundamentals of all they hold dear. David Leavitt’s book is a brilliant fiction, but the world he portrays is all too real.”
—Drew Gallagher, Washington Independent Review of Books
“There is an art to writing about unlikable people while still engaging the reader to invest in their indulgence, vanity and, yes, happiness…Leavitt unfurls a droll drawing-room pastiche that evokes la dolce vita as ‘Seinfeld’ episode…it’s Aaron Sorkin on steroids. And surprisingly compelling. Leavitt has claimed John Cheever and Grace Paley as influences, and it shows here: His dissection of the pampered New Yorkers’ reaction to Trump’s election, which they treat as a personal affront, is lethal and also kookily endearing…Leavitt, cleverly crafting a New Yorker cartoon in words, proves there is still some navel-gazing worth reading. His autopsy of the current liberal ennui is not particularly trenchant or surprising, but it’s certainly amusing. And in this ghastly year, can’t we all use more of that?”
—Michael Callahan, New York Times Book Review
“Allusions to Edith Wharton and Henry James abound. Leavitt easily nails the trappings of entitlement, [playing] privileged, shallow characters for their unwitting part in the current reality, [and] pulls off a surprisingly sweet ending and some clever ripostes.”
—Heller McAlpin, NPR
“Leavitt is a master at pointing out problems without telling you he's doing so - a kind of subtlety that is imperative for effective criticism…If you're a fan of books that explore the intricacies of wealth, politics, love, and friendship, you'll want to pick up Shelter in Place.”
“None of the main characters gets a pass in this dark comedy, and it’s a lot of fun: Democrats, Republicans, writers, and even one magazine editor who binges on sugar-dusted sticks of butter—Leavitt skewers them all in this delectable novel. A humane, knowing comedy perfect for a moment when no one in America seems to like one another.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“This irresistible, laugh-out-loud romp is a winner.”
“A delightfully sly comedy of manners…comic and poignant…Readers will take in décor of the one-percent, jealous riffs on famous writers, and caricatured liberals and conservatives with voyeuristic glee.”
“Shelter in Place chronicles the upper middle upper upper crust of New York City society. In the months following the election of Donald Trump, they are plunged into uncertainty and doubt. Eva, the group’s north star, copes by buying an apartment in Venice. Her husband embarks on an affair. It’s hard to imagine a softer target for satire, but Leavitt’s verve and wit make this novel a joy to read. Shelter in Place is a classic six of a novel, fully furnished with bon mots and aperçus.”
—David Enyeart, Next Chapter Booksellers
“I’ve long been a fan of David Leavitt’s work, for its range, its depth, its smarts and its humor. He is a phenomenal and prescient writer.”
“‘Humankind cannot stand very much reality.’ So a character in David Leavitt’s novel, Shelter in Place, quotes T. S. Eliot. Leavitt has written a brilliant comedy of manners about the convoluted ways that people of taste, affluence, privilege, breeding, etc. avoid looking too closely at their own part in said reality. Shelter in Place is a book about people who are essentially spectators, bystanders, but who wish to be more—to be people of action. Among the book’s themes are the relationship between altruism and self-preservation, and the highly ephemeral nature of a certain kind of sophistication.”
“Very funny and unexpected, a material response to our times, plush as velvet.”
“A wickedly funny and emotionally expansive novel about all the bewildering ways we seek solace from the people and things that surround us.”
“Shelter in Place is a poignant, funny, wonderful novel, a pleasure and a joy.”
“David Leavitt is a masterful writer, and his dialogue, his innate sense of the rhythm of how people talk to each other, both in public and in private, is absolutely incredible. It's impossible not to be pulled into this novel, to see the epicenter of chaos in the lives of these characters, and listen to them try to talk themselves into a new imagining of the world. With precision and humor, Leavitt has created something amazing.”
De Harmonie (The Netherlands)
Bloomsbury (UK and Commonwealth)
October 14: Conversation with Ange Mlinko, Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5 p.m. CDT.
October 15: Conversation with David Enyeart, Next Chapter Booksellers, St. Paul, Minnesota, 7 p.m. CDT.
October 17: Conversation with Francesco Belais, Love & Pride Festival, Livorno, Italy, 6:30 p.m. CEST.
October 21: Online reading, Chevalier’s Books, Los Angeles, California, 5 p.m. PDT.
October 27: Online reading, Scrittori a domicilio, Turin, Italy. Streaming at 6:30 p.m. CEST here.
October 28: Online reading, Books Inc, San Francisco, California, 5 p.m. PDT.