The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place


Note: Yes it is strange to post a lone book review. Those who know why I'm posting this one alone will know why; those who won't also won't care and are free to wait for the completion of my next five.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place.

Even though what I knew about this book prior to beginning it can be summed in one sentence ("Lady Steed thought the introduction to the main character made that character really irritating."), I was still predisposed to like it because of the dozen or so times I read E. L. Konigsberg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a child. The only other Konigsburg book I ever read was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth which I found unsettling as a child.

Anyway, after reading it, I did like it. But listen: I'm making no qualms about spilling spoilers today, so stay away if spoilers will upset you.

Lady Steed finished the book a couple days before I did; it's this month's book for her book club and when possible, I like to read them also so we can talk about them and when she talks about book club, I get what was said. I'm not in a book club so I get some vicarious literary thrills this way.

Anyway, the more we talked about it, the more our conversation swayed from the feels-good girl-saves-the-day surface story to the less pleasant subtext where, really, the little people may have felt good about their accomplishment but actually they failed, utterly and completely.

Now that all the spoiler-haters are long gone and the rest of you have spent the morning reading the book, let's chat: What was protag trying to do? Save the towers. Okay, fine, good. Why was she trying to save the towers? The person who wrote the flapcopy didn't know. That yahoo said it was because she "knows the towers for what they truly are: irreplaceable works of art." No. It never even occurred to her that they are art until someone else calls them such. Because she loves them? Yeah, sure, that's part of it. A big part of it. But at the end of the day, it's less about the towers and more about her uncles whose work they are.

They worst thing about the towers being torn down is that their destruction will ruin the uncles --- their pending destruction already is driving them into a nasty funk! The tower-building part of them has died as is evidenced by the fact that they've stopped maintaining the paint and they're not building the fourth tower . . . isn't that death of the uncle's tower-building center the truly horrifying part of the towers' destruction? Isn't that what the hero's trying to save?

Then, through a miraculous series of lucky breaks, she gets some handy adults involved and they save the towers and she feels like she has really accomplished something, and she has, but she has not resurrected that dead part of her uncles' souls. Are they back to maintaining the towers? No. The towers are now owned by a massive corporation and fenced off and the uncles cannot even touch them. Are they building the fourth tower? No, they are still prevented from building any more towers by city code.

Allegedly, the best way to appreciate the towers is to stand inside them and look up.

But no one can do that anymore.

Allegedly, the towers needed to be saved because they were a vital part of the neighborhood. But the tower-haters still won the day: the towers are gone. They have left the neighborhood forever.

And their new home offers the exquisite irony that a new, yippie artsyfartsy community has been built up around their new location and that the people who once hated them for lucrecentric reasons now worship them for lucrecentric reasons. The people who took them over to destroy them have now taken them over to trivialize them.

And the men who built them, the uncles, are diminished into rich folks' dinner-party stories: "It became something of a contest to see who had the best story to tell."

This is a victory? Everyone seems to think it is. But it looks more to me like the "victors" got played. Someone threw the plebes a bone. So they wouldn't notice they were being screwed.

(Hope I haven't ruined the book for anyone.)

Incidentally, I really hope you heeded my spoiler warning. Because not knowing about the whole tower thing makes it possible to enjoy the first half of the book. Lady Steed tells me that knowing the towers are coming renders the first half of the book a mere waiting game, while I really enjoyed the first half.

(ps: are you as smart as my wife to immediately think of these?)

So it's a good book, but I wager that most people (particularly the 12yrold female intended audience) doesn't notice the dark subtext. Although it is plainly evident, it's so well concealed beneath an innocent exterior that we are left with one of two conclusions: a) Konigsberg didn't realize what she was writing either, or b) she's a freaking genius.

Let's vote!


  1. Just so you know, immediately I considered the towers in your link as the basis for the towers in the story. I agree with your assessment, though. Nothing was saved except the towers themselves. It seems analogous to much we've seen in the past few years - National Security, Political Hackery, Financial Bail Outs and such. What is it we're saving?

    As for lucre-centric, I didn't even know what the word was since to this point I had only read it hyphenated. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I googled the word to find out what it meant. Almost. Is lucrecentric correct without hyphenation? I'm getting picky in my old age.

  2. .

    I had no idea it existed outside this post, so feel as smart as you should.

  3. No matter who might have realized these things first, nothing seems more novel than those discoveries we make on our own.

  4. I thought about looking up "lucrecentric," but then I figured it out by the end of the post, at which point I guessed it was a Theric original.

    I'm going to infringe your rights to that word, just so you know.

  5. .

    I've never been less offended, Adam.