Rereadings: ‘Super in the City’ by Daphne Uviller
I was relatively new to New York when I first read Daphne Uviller’s Super in the City. I had only been there four months or so and was still feeling like a sore thumb in that throbbing metropolis.
I read Super for work and while I liked it well enough, once I finished it, I remember thinking it was really fluffy. Like, how and why was I even reading something so unabashedly silly? It made my teeth hurt with sweetness. I had every intention of never reading it again. I’d probably donate it to the Strand.
Imagine my surprise when, a week later, I was still thinking about it. I ended up reading it again two more times within the month and a few more times over the next year as I tried to find my way in my new urban home. Super in the City stuck with me. It resonated, striking a chord I hadn’t known I wanted to hear, and made me feel just a little less like I didn’t belong. And it hasn’t been off my shelf since.
Super in the City tells the story of Zephyr Zuckerman, a young woman who doesn’t know what to do with her life who moves back home to Greenwich village and takes on the role of super in her parents’ brownstone. In her new “job” as super, she becomes entangled in mysterious and possibly criminal events beyond her control, meets a studly exterminator, and generally finds her way in life. It’s a pretty basic story, but Uviller is a zippy and funny writer, so the book flies by.
But there’s something beyond the book’s basic plot and Uviller’s enjoyable writing style that has kept me coming back over the years. And I’m pretty sure it’s Zephyr herself.
Zephyr Zuckerman is probably the most real person-ish fictional character I’ve ever read. Every time I read this book, I newly appreciate how genuine she feels. She doesn’t come across as a harried chick lit heroine. She feels like a human woman. She’s allowed to be herself, her own imaginative, crazy, hopeful, obsessive, morose, self-conscious, confident, wacky self. She’s a thousand things, many of them not necessarily positive — like a real person — and I think that realness is what resonated with me about Super after all these years.
Zephyr’s story is a familiar one — lost girl finds her way — but it is enlivened by going through it with a guide like Zephyr. Her inner patter often veers off into Walter Mitty-esque heights of imagination, but it’s a familiar inner patter to anyone who actively dreams while going about their daily routine.
Six years ago, Super in the City made me feel a little less strange and little less out-of-place in New York. (Yes, this is also one of those “New York is like a character!” books.) And every time I’ve cracked it open since, it has made me feel a little bit better about whatever situation is plaguing me at the moment. Super is certainly a light read, but that doesn’t mean it can be as easily dismissed as I first thought.
At this point, I’m not sure if my affection for Super in the City is because of its familiarity and the nostalgia of reading something at such a transitional moment in my life or something more serious. But, I do know that I can’t name for you any of the other books I read when I first came to New York. And I would certainly be hard-pressed to come up with another book that can so instantly buoy my flagging or soaring spirits. Super in the City is sharp, entertaining, and downright fun with a heroine of unusual realness. And I am already looking forward to the next time I read it.