Three Floors Up

Other Press  2017

 

“The main thing is to talk to someone. Otherwise, alone, a person has no idea which of the three floors he is on.” The three floors, which also represent the three stages in Freud’s theory of personal development, are the framework for this lively tripartite novel by Eshkol Nevo, a highly admired Israeli author. Each of the three stories in the novel is set on one of three floors in a suburban Tel Aviv apartment building, and each one is told to someone in some way—three monologues on three emotionally different floors.

Arnon lives on the first floor with his wife and two young daughters. Obsessed with the idea that his nine-year-old daughter has in some way been sexually abused by an older neighbor, Arnon heightens the tension between him and his wife and drives himself into impulsive bursts of behavior. To relieve himself of his deepening problems, he texts an old friend, a writer, and in a restaurant blurts out his story.

On the second floor, Hani, a young mother with two children, has a husband who travels for business so much that Arnon and his wife refer to her as the widow. Hani’s grasp on reality is weakening. When she calls a psychologist whom she went to years before, she learns that the psychologist has died. For lack of anyone to talk to, she writes a letter to a very close old friend who now lives in Middletown, Ohio, and pours out her fears that she is losing herself and is no longer sure of what has really happened and what may have been imagined.

Devora, a retired judge and recent widow, lives on the third floor. Her husband had also been a judge, and their marriage was made even closer by their shared profession. But there had been differences over their son, a difficult and troubled child with whom her husband had demanded they make a complete break. Alone in her apartment, watching protests against housing prices on television, she decides to join the demonstrations and, invigorated by the passionate but chaotic young people, is drawn into the social protests. She feels compelled to tell her husband about the unrest in the country and, more important, the decisions she is making that have put her totally in charge of her life. Having found an old answering machine, she records her story in two-minute snatches.

The author, Nevo, creates three compulsive narrators, three unsparingly candid monologues, three stories that expose the psyches of people caught at critical points in their lives—each dramatizing one aspect of Freud’s theory. The stories are very loosely linked and progress up the three floors, each dealing with a situation that comes closer to resolution as the novel goes up a floor. The reader, the unacknowledged listener to these one-sided outpourings, comes to know Arnon, Hani, and Devora intimately but cannot provide the responses they so ardently want. Perceptive and compelling, Three Floors Up plays with the form of the novel itself and keeps the reader absorbed in its sets of triads.

Interview

Read Ranen Omer-Sherman's interview with Eshkol Nevo here.


Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Other Press

  1. On page 11 Arnon says, “Before people had ulterior motives.” Do you think he has any ulterior motives in relating his story to his listener?


  2. Both Hani on the second floor and Devora in the third floor tell their listeners that they need a witness (pp 166, 201). On page 3 Arnon asks his listener to “promise not to put [his narration] in one of [the listener’s] books.” How do you as a reader feel about being let into the confidence of Arnon, Hani, and Devora, respectively? Do you feel like a witness or do you feel complicit?


  3. Do you think Arnon is a reliable narrator? Is he any more or less reliable than Hani or Devora?


  4. Why do you think Arnon sleeps with Herman’s granddaughter? Why do you think Hani is attracted to Eviatar? Do you think Devora could have reconnected with her son if Michael were still alive?


  5. How does Three Floors Up depict motherhood?


  6. In Eviatar’s story to Lyri, the scorpion felt that “he had to sting the turtle. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a scorpion” (p114). What are the urges of each of the residents of the apartment building? Do they give in to all their urges? Do their desires define who they are?


  7. What are the similarities between Hani and Devora? Do you think Hani would have a stronger grip on “the confidence that [she] even has a self” (p 163) if she had chosen, like Devora, to return to work after three months?


  8. On page 174 Devora asks “Why not hitch a ride to the big city with a neighbor and join the demonstrators myself?” On page 187 she asks, “Didn’t those people have families or close friends they could talk to discreetly?” Do you think there’s any significance to the lack of communication between the residents of the apartment building in the novel? Do you think Devora will speak more to her neighbors in her new apartment?


  9. Which of the narrators had the voice you liked best? Why?


  10. After reading each of the interconnected stories in Three Floors Up, does it seem like Arnon, Hani, and Devora are living in the same country? What are the similarities that can be found in each of their stories? What are the differences?




Have You Read...