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The Man on the Third Floor by Anne Bernays

The Man on the Third Floor (edition 2012)

by Anne Bernays

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3116357,052 (3.27)None
Title:The Man on the Third Floor
Authors:Anne Bernays
Info:The Permanent Press (2012), Hardcover, 184 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Man on the Third Floor by Anne Bernays



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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This slim volume covers quite a bit of territory in its 184 pages. Ostensibly, it's about the gay awakening of its narrator, Walter Samson, set against the backdrop of the 1950’s New York publishing world and the red scare of the McCarthy era. Drawing obvious parallels between the communist witch hunt and Samson’s justifiable paranoia over being outed as a homosexual, author Bernays sets herself an ambitious agenda. Unfortunately, in certain respects, her reach exceeds her grasp.

Strictly as an evocation of Manhattan’s publishing heyday, the book is a total hoot. If you enjoy the world of Mad Men where the executives pat the curvy bottoms of their secretaries before heading out for a smoke-filled, scotch fueled lunch on the corporate expense account, then this will be right up your alley. Bernays completely nails the glamourous atmosphere of late fifties/early sixties NYC. And she seems to have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of publishing's bygone halcyon days - when wads of time and money was spent wooing potential authors, as well as keeping successful authors already under contract happy.

Almost all of the secondary characters are well fleshed out and believable, chief among them Walter’s left-leaning wife, Phyllis. As a matter of fact, the only character who isn’t particularly well defined is the titular man on the third floor, Barry Rogers, who is supposedly the love of Walter’s life. Walter meets the blue-collar Barry when he comes to install carpet in his office. For Walter, it’s lust at first sight. In short order, he hires Barry to work as his driver and installs him in an apartment on the top story of the brownstone he lives in with his family allowing them to carry on a covert affair for many years.

But as a love story this book completely failed for me. Despite assuring the reader, over and over again, how much Barry means to him, there are hardly any scenes between them and almost no dialogue. There’s a lot of telling, but very little in the way of showing. Usually, when Walter thinks of Barry, sees him or refers to him, it’s in a purely sexual context. For example (and most egregiously) when one of his children suffers a serious medical emergency, Walter emerges from the hospital to see Barry awaiting him in the car and reacts with lust. Somehow, the "love story" did not ring true. I had no sense that Walter esteems Barry in any way, but instead only views him as an object of desire.

Anne Bernays is an excellent writer. Every aspect of this book is complete delight except the central relationship. I think if she had expanded the book, focusing more on Barry and Walter and excluding some of the extraneous publishing storylines, this might have succeeded as both an indictment of persecution and an epic love story. As it is, you get a lot of the former and almost none of the latter. ( )
  blakefraina | Mar 7, 2013 |
As I've said a dozen times this month, I received this book from a GoodReads drawing.

My last several reviews have reflected an increasing level of cynicism about books, which is a polite way of saying that I've waded through quite a bit of mediocrity. This one, however, was good enough to make me throw out quite a few books as "suspected unpleasantness" and refocus on reading quality literature rather than wasting time on junk. No matter how invigorating it may be to write a scathing review of someone's 400-pages of fetid tripe, the fact remains that one read 400 pages of fetid tripe.

The above is simply a long-hand way of saying that Bernays' contribution is a wonder. Her portrayal of character and local historical color is gripping and real and makes me want to go back to reading real classical literature. Her story of a gay book editor in the 20s-50s is not only refreshing but eruditely executed.

I tend to judge a book most on just to whom I plan to pass it along next. At this point I'm in a quandary as I rather wish I had half a dozen copies to hand out. ( )
  slavenrm | Mar 7, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this character study of a man living a double life. Anne Bernays made the characters seem believable. The story didn't provide much tension, but that isn't the type of story that it is. ( )
  momweaver | Nov 23, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Received as an Early Reviewer book. I mostly enjoyed Anne Bernays writing style--especially in the first 2/3 of the book, but found her portrayal of the main character rather flat. Missing was a large degree of suspense that would have surrounded his surreptitious relationship with another man in his own house. The storyline surrounding the threats made by his publishing firms key author and ultimate exposure of his affair also failed to deliver. It almost seemed like the author was tired of writing at this point,quickly wrapped up loose pieces and ended the book. ( )
  sharlene_w | Nov 10, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This novel just didn't come together for me - there was no tension, even at the end when the relationship between the protagonist and his lover was exposed. It almost felt as if Bernays was bored with her subject; as if she was dutifully recounting the relationship between Walter and Barry for some sort of exercise. All those years of trysts on the third floor, Walter's family oblivious: it was not only unbelievable, but if they had not been, early on, it would have added some spice to the book. ( )
  bobbieharv | Nov 7, 2012 |
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For Michael Korda, Ken Siman, and Michael Stein.  They have my back.
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After news of the unusual goings-on in my house finally escaped, like a gas leak from a faulty stove, some of my so-called liberal New York City friends characterized my life using words that shocked even me.
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After handyman Barry Rogers moves in with Walter Sampson's family, Barry and Walter become clandestine lovers, during a time when McCarthy-era paranoia is targeting homosexuals.

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