Debut Novel May Turn E. 83rd into the City’s Most Popular Street

A debut novel, “Emma of 83rd Street” by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding centers of course on 83rd St.–in this case the UES side of 83rd as it traces the exploits and sexploits of its well heeled, 23-year-old heroine, Emma, and her newest best friend Nadine. Our On the Town columnist Lorraine Duffy Merkl gives her own take on the novel jointly written by two first time authors who both work in tv writing and production, are both married and each of them has two kids.

| 23 Jun 2023 | 01:06

“I’m Lorraine of 86th Street. Meet my neighbor Emma of 83rd Street. She’s 23, attractive, and educated but even though her hobby is matchmaking, she’s hard-pressed to meet her own true love.”

So begins the debut novel by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding as this romantic and comedic first time novel looks at modern NYC dating through the lens of Jane Austen’s Emma with a Sex And The City and Gossip Girl chaser. Or as Simon & Schuster explains, “After her matchmaking, Emma ended up seeing her sister married and moving downtown, she finds herself a bit adrift. Emma must start her final year of grad school grappling with an entirely new emotion: boredom. So when she meets Nadine, a wide-eyed Ohio transplant with a heart of gold and drugstore blonde highlights to match, Emma not only sees a potential new friend but a new project. If only her overbearing neighbor George Knightley would get out of her way.”

I haven’t been a single gal about town in quite a while (my husband Neil and I just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary), but reading the exploits of Emma, her sister Margo, their childhood friends Ben and George, and her new BFF Nadine brought me back.

Unlike me, who grew up in the Bronx, moved to Manhattan when I was 25, and lived, until I was married, in a studio apartment in Tudor City, which Neil dubbed Tudor Closet, Emma grew up wealthy in a Manhattan townhouse. Also, although I met my share of outta-towners, mostly through work, the most I could ever do for any of them was give directions as to how to get places. I did not have the resources to give them glam makeovers or the connections to introduce them to New York society (or get them a side hustle) that Emma has. Of course, the Upper East Side scion’s doing all this while finishing grad school and trying to secure a coveted internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We New York girls are always so busy. Even when we’re not, we find a way to keep busy.

Sometimes though, despite our best efforts, things don’t always go exactly as we plan.

However, an older and wiser friend of the family imparts to Emma: “You’re going to make so many mistakes. And you should. That’s what makes life worth living. The mistakes lead you where you’re supposed to be.”

For Emma and Nadine (and me back in the day) those mistakes always revolve around men, like the hipster barista who comes off as sincere and down-to-earth but is Machiavelli in a knitted cap or the flaky playboy millionaire who’s always anywhere (like the south of France) than where he’d promised he be—a friend’s wedding or birthday celebration, or holding up his end of a business deal. For the rest of us, it’s all the men on SATC including the enlisted men that Carrie & Co. met during Fleet Week.

Bellezza and Harding remind us that we don’t always have to look far and wide for true love. Mine is an outer borough story—as I said, I’m from the Bronx, my husband is from Queens, we met in Brooklyn at a party I had not wanted to go to; I worked with a woman who married her downstairs neighbor whom she passed in the hallway the day she moved into her building; another colleague met her significant other when they both grabbed for the same yogurt container in the supermarket. Not the swept-off-your-feet glamour that New York is known for, but surely the stuff of which rom-coms are made.

Like many of us, all Emma needs is to get out of her own way and view what is right in front of her (something her sister did quite successfully.) In fact, she’s not the only character in the book who already has what they’re looking for and only realizes it when they think they’re going to lose it.

Emma of 83rd Street is a breezy, fun romp that takes place in a world that is rarefied yet at the same time familiar. It takes us uptown and down, to fancy Sunday dinners prepared by private chefs, behind closed doors of well-appointed homes, invites us to catered affairs, to the inner workings of the Met, and into relaxing backyards (yes, there are people in Manhattan who actually have backyards.)

Given the state of our city these days, we need more than ever the lesson that Emma offers Nadine: “Everything in New York is the best.”

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of several novels, most recently “The Last Single Woman in New York City” (Heliotrope Books).