It is the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election, and in a plush weekend house in Connecticut, an intimate group of friends, New Yorkers all, has gathered to recover from what they consider the greatest political catastrophe of their lives. They have just sat down to tea when their hostess, Eva Lindquist, proposes a dare. Who among them would be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Donald Trump? Liberal and like-minded-editors, writers, a decorator, a theater producer, and one financial guy, Eva’s husband, Bruce-the friends have come to the countryside in the hope of restoring the bubble in which they have grown used to living. Yet with the exception of one brash and obnoxious book editor, none is willing to accept Eva’s challenge.
Shelter in Place is a novel about house and home, furniture and rooms, safety and freedom and the invidious ways in which political upheaval can undermine even the most seemingly impregnable foundations. Eva is the novel’s polestar, a woman who moves through her days accompanied by a roving, carefully curated salon. She’s a generous hostess and more than a bit of a control freak, whose obsession with decorating allows Leavitt to treat us to a slyly comic look at the habitués and fetishes of the so-called shelter industry. Yet when, in her avidity to secure shelter for herself, she persuades Bruce to buy a grand if dilapidated apartment in Venice, she unwittingly sets off the chain of events that will propel him, for the first time, to venture outside the bubble and embark on a wholly unexpected love affair.
Considering the past four years that were launched by that 2016 election, Shelter in Place feels like an epitaph to a country that once had hopes and dreams. The “bubble” in which the characters have been living, when contrasted by real-life events that none of them could even imagine, felt almost nostalgic.
Scenes of interiors and fantasy escapes from reality were couched in humor, however, which gave me something to smile about as we look ahead to a real-life escape from the intensity of this four-year period: the Trump presidency in all its infamy.
Their world of privilege seems narcissistic when compared to those whose lives were toppled by the aftermath of that infamous election. From the 2020 world in which many readers have lived in recent weeks, 2016 might almost seem like a fairytale.
The characters were spoiled and entitled…but interesting, too. I did love reading about the interiors, which made me feel envious of such privileged lives.
In the end, the story did take me out of current reality for a while. 4.5 stars.