New Novel is the “Sweeter Side of Sex and the City”

Taking a break from her Nantucket and Montana-focused novels, bestselling author Pamela Kelley has written her second Manhattan-centric book, “The Fifth Avenue Apartment.” Kelley writes in the opening chapter as the main character steps out of Penn Station. “The energy of the city always amazed her. It felt full of possibilities.”

| 22 Feb 2024 | 05:19

They say that in New York, you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend, or an apartment. Sophie Lawton, the main character in Pamela Kelley’s recently released new novel, “The Fifth Avenue Apartment,” is doing all three as she loses one job and heads for a new career while juggling roommates, office rivalries and an intriguing author who lives next door to her elderly aunt.

Everyone who’s ever moved to Manhattan to make their way will relate to the 30-year-old Sophie in the new novel. Although she hails from Plymouth, MA, Kelley says she visits our city a couple of times a year. “I’ve always been fascinated by New York.”

You can tell that’s true by the sincere way she writes about Sophie’s year-long, journey in search of career satisfaction, romance, and friendship after she unexpectedly lands a new home base on Museum Mile in the East 80s, where she was fortunate enough to fall into a great apartment when her 92 year old aunt passes and leaves it to her.

Kelley, who found so much success self-publishing, including the current book, that agents and traditional publishers that St. Martin’s Press came calling and signed her to a three book deal.

She said she got the idea for “The Fifth Avenue Apartment” several years ago. She was here researching her other Manhattan-based book, a work of historical fiction called “Gilded Girl,” which came out in 2022. “It’s a time period that’s always really interested me. What I did that was so fun was to take a Gilded Age walking tour.”

Then inspiration took shape. “What got me interested in a modern-day story was walking along Fifth Avenue, and the Met.” She decided to combine late 19th century glamour with her love of real estate, reality TV and her admiration for Carrie Bradshaw & Co. to create what she called, “A sweeter version of Sex And The City.”

Her niece Nicole, an engineer and Massachusetts transplant who lives in Murray Hill, knew Kelley was working on this new book so says the author, “We did a final research trip.”

To get the feel of living in Big Apple opulence, she and some other family members stayed at The Plaza “for free” Kelley said excitedly, thanks to rewards points. Yet she made clear, “I really wanted to see inside some of these apartments that Sophie might be selling, so we went to a couple of open houses. That was really fascinating. We found an apartment on Fifth Avenue we fell in love with. We dreamed about it. We said we could live there if we had a couple of extra million.” Oh, couldn’t we all?

And with that came a new induction to the small-town-girl-comes-to-the-big-city squad.

As a native New Yorker, I know it can sometimes feel like a nightmare trying to start out in The City That Never Sleeps. We have enough stories of the nonfiction variety out there about how draining our borough can be to maneuver, and also enough novels where the main character falls prey to the unsupportive boss, the manipulative coworker, the bad boyfriend, and so on. Even though in the end, she usually prevails, it’s not until she’s graduated from the School of Hard Knocks where tough lessons are learned.

Kelley’s take is actually a lovely change of pace.

After Sophie loses her support staff job at a law firm, she jumps at the chance to move out of her family’s Hudson home and in with her widowed great-aunt who lives near the Metropolitan Museum on the UES..

It took me three post-college years to move to Manhattan from the Bronx. The only downside during that time was the commute. I knew a girl who mirrored my situation, except she lived in Queens, and had an aunt who lived on East End Avenue whose house she could sleep at if she worked late or didn’t want to trek it back to the outer boroughs after partying in NYC on a Saturday night. My envy was palatable.

It was déjà vu all over again as I read Sophie’s story, except it went further. In about a New York Minute after she settles into her new Museum Mile digs, she finds herself the sole owner of the four-bedroom because her elderly aunt passes, also leaving her enough money to pay the maintenance for a year.

Oh yes, along with the apartment comes the handsome and nice neighbor Max, who is a renowned author of a successful series of books. In my four decades here, I have only met one person who met her husband via sharing coincidently the same address. But hey, it can happen.

Sophie, feeling unfilled professionally, spares us the “in real life” drama of applying for positions online to no avail, and does a good old-fashioned job-hunting pivot: temping to get a feel for what industries might really interest her.

Wading through finance and advertising, the newly minted heiress eventually hones in on the demanding and competitive field of New York real estate. She goes from temp receptionist to junior broker handling multimillion-dollar listings while building an impressive list of clients from her volunteer work at the Met faster than you can say Always Be Closing.

To cap things off, Sophie kick-starts her social life by making two friends at work—Caroline and Tessa—who quickly become her roommates. Despite real estate being a dog-eat-dog business, Caroline has a women-helping-women vibe and cheers on Sophie, even showing her the ropes.

Tessa isn’t quite as warm and fuzzy. When her sales and love life both take a dip, she decides to poach her friend’s man and clients.

My first career was in advertising, so I know what backbiting looks like. The way the Sophie/Tessa conflict is handled is less like a bite, and more like a nibble. (All workplace conflicts should be so benign.)

In a time when we could use it, this book is a positive spin on NYC, as long as you take it for what it is: a dreamy version of living in Manhattan. I enjoyed it so much that I was sorry when it ended. Kelley says I’m not alone. “I’ve had a really positive response for the book.” So much so that she’s considering a second and whetting our appetites with a free download of a few “What happens to Sophie next?” chapters on Amazon listed as “The Fifth Avenue Apartment Bonus Short Story.

Readers often describe Kelley’s books as feel-good reads with people you’d want as friends. I’m now among those who agree with that assessment and would definitely be friends with anyone who’d let me a room in their Fifth Avenue apartment.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the latest one is “The Last Single Woman in New York.”