The title’s funny, see, because the story is actually about a kleptomaniac. And about life in New York: the weekly shrink appointment, the tub in the kitchen, the freelancing, the perpetual vague plans to learn a musical instrument and/or foreign language, at some point, when you have more time. Sasha, the protagonist, is in her mid-thirties and lives in the same apartment she moved into in her late twenties (“the whole apartment, which six years ago had seemed like a way station to some better place, had ended up solidifying around [her]“), and coping with the various disappointments and diminished expectations of urban life. And also she steals things, and gets a charge from it.
“It contained years of her life compressed,” is how Egan describes the table of stolen things (scarves, bath salts, a screwdriver) in her apartment. But, really, her life is nothing if not compressed. She has a tub in her kitchen, fer chrissakes, she has fewer friends than she used to, and her career in the music industry is dwindling out. And all the stuff about Sasha’s small apartment, and how old she feels in comparison to the newly minted New Yorker she goes on a date with, reminded me, at least, of the daily compressions that city life entails, sardine subways and all the rest.
So it’s possible, and for my part tempting, to connect the pop-psychological dots that Egan ably lays out, and read the kleptomania as a person’s (or, rather, a character’s) attempt at making a little more space for herself, of appropriating a bit of the personal real estate crowding around hers. The story opens with Sasha stealing a woman’s wallet in a restaurant bathroom:
“Sasha was adjusting her yellow eyeshadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vault-like door of a toilet stall.”
The impossibility of privacy is latent there, but more explicit later on. A plumber shows up at her apartment, “sent by Sasha’s landlord to investigate a leak in the apartment below hers. He’d appeared in Sasha’s doorway, tufts of gray on his head, and within a minute—boom—he’d hit the floor and crawled under her bathtub like an animal fumbling its way into a familiar hole.” This seems a pretty accurate description of the intrusions we learn to take for granted pretty regularly; for her part, Sasha snatches a screwdriver from the plumber’s tool belt: “once the screwdriver was in her hand, she felt instant relief from the pain of having an old soft-backed man snuffling under her tub…”
So, I liked this story quite a bit. I’m not sure if my reading of the story is entirely in line with Egan’s intentions; then again, I did read it the day after I was awakened at 2am by the sound of water leaked by my upstairs neighbor’s radiator dropping onto the floor of my apartment. (It’s fine now, thanks for asking, though because of the seepage of course there’s now a small but distinct lump in my ceiling, like a single humble, plaster-coated breast sagging into my home, rust-colored nipple first.)