Book Review : Daniel Falatko - Condominium (2015)
"How can anyone own a view?"
I spent years of my life trying to figure out how society turned young and beautiful people filled with dreams and hormones into our parents. Today, I am 33 and I know. The first step is finishing school: nothing will help you reassess your worth as a human being quicker than an employer chuckling at your resume while bills are stacking up. The second (and final step for most people) is buying real estate. Buying a house or a condo seems like a straightforward transaction, but it's fucking twisted. Basically, it's the process of having a financial institution assessing if you're worth owning a house. Building it yourself on an abandoned plot of land wouldn't be simpler, but it sure as hell would be healthier.
I am 33 years old and I've been a bona fide adult for almost a year now, so I'm naturally interested in adult problems such as the material worth of my existence. I am 33 years old and remember being a kid with hopes, dreams and truckloads of testosterone and I still to let my reality define me as a person. That's why I gravitate towards novels like Daniel Falatko's Condominium. I can only praise Falatko for writing a novel in the shadow of literary giants and while it couldn't have possibly matched the intensity of already existing iconic real estate fiction, Condominium manages to make the common pursuits of adult age sound as hollow as they really are.
Condominium is the story of Charles and Sarah, a young archetypal New York couple, who just moved in one of Williamsburg's Waterfront skyscrapers, one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate in the Greatest City in the World. At the very moment they complete the transaction, an invisible tension settles between the two and starts prying them apart. Sarah finds herself isolated in this tower, prey to creepy neighbors and her unstable professional situation while Charles works late every night in order to make the steep mortgage payment and spends the rest of his time anesthetizing his alienation with his work friends. So, are they moving on up or are they just getting pulled apart by the existential pressure of owning prime real estate?
Let's discuss the two elephants in the room first: J.G Ballard and Bret Easton Ellis. They're all over Daniel Falatko's Condominium. It's damn nearly impossible to live up to Ballard's seminal skyscraper novel High-Rise (now a movie, starring freakin' Tom Hiddleston), but Falatko seems very aware of that problem and keeps both feet firmly into realism. Although you will find scenes of malaise and awkward neighbors who overpass their boundaries that will remind you of Ballard's book, Daniel Falatko never crosses the line although it feels like creepy neighbor Raymond is always a step away from bringing the narrative into Ballardian territory. Same with the party scenes that owe a lot to Ellis' legendary knack for portraying debauchery, yet his character manage to keep their decorum and sense of social responsibility, at least most of the time.
He had yet to witness their building at night, from the ground, and had to stop on the corner by a vegan cheesesteak truck to marvel at the sight. A massive rectangle of light exploding skyward. These streets he walked through to reach it, dark and muffled, the lights too dim, the buildings too drab, all of them, all of everything, sucked into oblivion by the roaring slipstream of his Tower.
I know I'm not ACTUALLY discussing Condominium a whole lot here, but I believe going over Daniel Falatko's influences is important because they are two violent, otherworldly novel that helped shape something that's much closer to the contemporary reality of real estate owning and yet feels almost as alienating. I liked Condominium for a very simple reason: it exposes the fallacy of having over being. I'm not some kind of anarchist who would nationalize housing or anything, but I thought that reading about Charles, Raymond and other owners value their relationship to "units" and assess worth to one another over simply living their lives because they're defined by their financial selves, to be absolutely terrifying.
It's how Condominium finds success in the shadow of High-Rise: it's nowhere near as apocalyptic, but it threatens to be on every page. Daniel Falatko leaves a lot undefined between his characters, so that his readers can build their own nightmare scenarios. Condominium is never apocalyptic, but it's constantly threatening. Some details about the novel bugged me, nothing major in the scope of what Falatko tried to achieve, but it created distance with the character. For example: I fail to see how recreational heroin snorters with high stress jobs and insane mortgage payments can manage to keep their lives together. Of course, I don't live in New York, so I have no idea what the real estate scene is over there, but I thought it clashes with the inherent realism of the novel and made Charles and Sarah come off as boneheads.
It's possible to write an engaging and original skyscraper novel in the shadow of J.G Ballard's High-Rise and Daniel Falatko's Condominium is hard evidence of that statement. My own obsession with Ballard's work might be talking too loud here and I'm sure Condominium is even more enjoyable if you haven't read it, but I thought Daniel Falatko did a terrific job at defining an original discourse in the shadow of such an iconic and important novel. Condominium definitely is an "adult novel" about issues you can't truly wrap your head around unless you've been confronted to them. It wasn't flawless, but few novels are. It managed to portray the ugly world we build for ourselves with unflinching resolve though.