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Heroic Measures

An elderly New York couple must deal with a terrorist threat, a real estate predicament, and – worst of all – a crisis with their pet.

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New York City is gridlocked – panic-crazed in the face of a hostage-taking foreign terrorist. But to retirees Alex and Ruth, the chaos in the city is only background noise. What really matters is the fate of Dorothy, their geriatric dachshund.

In Heroic Measures – Jill Ciment’s sixth book, a wry, gentle gem of a novel – we see how easily ordinary lives can be upended. For decades, Alex and Ruth lived quietly as artist and schoolteacher respectively in their East Village walk-up apartment. But the stairs are now too much for them and they must leave their home and seek a building with an elevator.

Ruth gazes on the blocks where she has lived so long and feels waves of sorrow. “In the early light, the street looked tooled in silver, and she felt such tenderness for the neighborhood that she had to collect herself or she might start to cry: they were being wrenched away from everything they loved.”

It would be scary enough under any circumstances for the unsophisticated Alex and Ruth to thrust themselves into the maelstrom of the New York real estate market (they must sell their apartment for at least a million dollars in order to fulfill their dream of staying in Manhattan), but the weekend of their open house the very universe seems on the verge of implosion. Reports swirl that a terrorist has wedged a gasoline truck into the Midtown Tunnel and – much worse – Dorothy suffers a seizure.

Narrated alternately from the points of view of Ruth, Alex, and Dorothy, “Heroic Measures” humorously, deftly tracks a weekend of intense urban angst. The media follows the alleged terrorist from locale to locale, a vicious bidding war breaks out over Ruth and Alex’s modest apartment, and Dorothy lies caged and despondent in a veterinary hospital, wondering if her beloved family has forgotten her.

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