A young woman named Sasha stands in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel, when she notices a bag on the floor. The owner of the bag is going to the bathroom in one of the stalls. Sasha mocks the woman’s blind trust. She thinks that in New York City, a person will steal the hair off of your head if you give them a chance. She reasons that not taking the wallet would be dull, so she decides to live dangerously, and steals it.
In this scene, Sasha’s struggle with her identity is explored in her reasoning around stealing the bag. She frets that her life is dull, and feels compelled to steal the purse. Of course, her comment about New York City being a place where people cannot be trusted also ironically describes herself as a resident of the city.
The narrative shifts, and it becomes clear that Sasha is recounting this episode to her therapist, Coz. Her therapist tries to get her to say the word steal. Since her “condition” started five years ago, Sasha has been unable to accept responsibility for her stealing. Sasha has stolen keys, sunglasses, a child’s striped scarf, binoculars, and pens, among other things. She no longer steals from stores because she finds the items cold and inert. She only steals from people.
The fact that Sasha is in therapy shows that the ruin her addiction to stealing has caused has led her to at least a hesitant desire for redemption. She steals from people because the objects have meaning for the individuals—she attempts to find connection to others through the objects she steals.
Coz calls the feeling Sasha gets when she steals “the personal challenge,” and considers it a way to assert her individuality. He attempts to switch this challenge around in her mind, so the challenge becomes the resistance of the urge. Meanwhile, Sasha has her own questions about Coz. She wonders if he is gay or straight, if he has written famous books, or if he is a con man posing as a therapist. She has decided to resist her urge to look into this.
While Sasha is confused with her own identity, she also seems to deflect this into questions about Coz’s true identity—but she does not look into him because she would prefer to keep it a mystery. Knowing him personally would mean more intimacy, which is something Sasha struggles with, both fearing and desiring human connection.
During their therapy sessions, Sasha rests on a blue leather couch, and Coz sits behind her. This relieves him of the burden of eye contact, which he finds tiring. Sasha stares out the window, and continues the story of stealing the wallet.
Connection for these characters is difficult. The lack of eye contact marks a lack of connection.
In the story, Sasha is on a boring date with a man named Alex. Alex stares at the television in the bar while Sasha tells him stories about her old boss, Bennie Salazar. Sasha goes to the bathroom and returns with the stolen wallet. After stealing it, she feels a strong sense of possibility in the evening. She sits back at the table and gives Alex what she calls her “yes/no smile.” Alex asks if she is happy. She tells him she is always happy, but sometimes she forgets.
Sasha talks about her old boss, hanging onto the past, which was (presumably) a better time in her life. Her smile and comment about happiness speak to the identity issues that Sasha faces—she struggles to authentically connect even to her own feelings.
Sasha asks Alex if he wants to go somewhere else, and he agrees. As he stands, she examines his body. She can tell he is in very good shape, not because he works out, but because he is young. Sasha feels like she has passed that point in her life. Not even her therapist knows her true age. Most people, when asked, place her in her 20s, and the closest anyone has come is 31. She works out daily and avoids the sun. Her online profiles say she is 28.
The body as a symbol in the novel usually connects to the passage of time and the effects of aging on the characters. The sun is also a symbol that reflects the passage of time, and so by avoiding it, Sasha attempts to cling to her youth. The dishonesty also reflects a lack of authenticity and an aspect of constant performance in her identity.
The narrative switches back to the therapist’s office. Coz asks Sasha if she ever considers how stealing makes her victims feel. Sasha understands the question has a correct answer, and that Coz is trying to help her get well. She knows where the story is supposed to end—she should stop stealing and return to the things that once guided her life: music and friends. She thinks of a set of goals she had written when she first moved to New York, which included finding a band to manage, understanding the news, studying Japanese, and practicing the harp.
Coz’s question is an attempt to get her to connect with herself emotionally, and think about her relation to other people. She understands this is an attempt to end the stealing, as it is “ruining” her story, which she assumes is supposed to end happily.
Sasha tells Coz she doesn’t think about the people she steals from. She knows that Coz does not think it is because of a lack of empathy. Sasha once told him about an incident when she stole a screwdriver from a plumber who was fixing her tub. As the plumber is on the floor, she sees the screwdriver and feels compelled to hold it. She easily slips it from his tool belt, thinking her hands were made for stealing. The screwdriver feels special to Sasha while the plumber is there, but after he leaves, it feels like any other screwdriver. Afterward, she feels bad about her actions, which is why she is bankrupting herself to pay for therapy.
Sasha seems to steal objects that are connected to the victim’s identity in an attempt to establish her own identity. As soon as the plumber leaves, however, the tool so intimately associated with him diminishes in meaning for Sasha. The moment that Sasha admits she feels bad is one of authenticity, though it doesn’t stop her from striving for connection through stealing.
Often, Coz tries to connect the figure of the plumber to Sasha’s father, who disappeared from her life at the age of six. She rejects this idea, stating that she doesn’t even remember her father. Sasha thinks that she does this for both Coz’s protection and her own, as she feels acknowledging the pain of this situation would interfere with the redemption story they are attempting to write through their therapy.
Sasha’s disconnection from her father is crucial to her character, but she is unwilling to admit it at this point in the novel. She feels that facing this loss will inhibit her recovery, and limit her chances for redemption. Her unwillingness to face this, however, interferes with the authenticity of her story and seems to prevent the possibility of any real “redemption” at all.
The story shifts back to the night of the wallet theft. As Sasha and Alex leave the hotel, a woman approaches and tells them that someone stole her wallet and she has to catch a plane in the morning. Alex steps up to help the woman. Sasha begins to worry once Alex tells the concierge to call security. She remembers she has a Xanax in her purse, but she can’t open it for fear the woman will see her wallet. She watches Alex get angry at the injustice of the situation. Sasha notes that he is new to New York, and seemingly still has a thing or two to prove about how people should treat one another.
At this point in the novel, Alex is still idealistic and principled, but Sasha thinks this will go away after living in New York for a while, which shows her disillusionment. Sasha’s desire for the Xanax is an attempt to disconnect from her feelings of shame for her actions, which is an ongoing struggle for her.
When the security guards arrive, Sasha tells Alex she will go search the bathroom. Once inside, she takes a Xanax in her mouth and chews it, because they work faster this way. As she looks for a place to put the wallet, the woman comes into the bathroom. Their eyes meet in the mirror. Sasha hands the woman the wallet and tells her she has a problem with stealing. Sasha then feels a warm rush, as if her body and the woman’s had fused together.
The moment where Sasha’s eyes meet the woman’s in the mirror is a step toward connection, though it is by its very nature (as only the reflection of Sasha, not Sasha herself) still indirect. This first step, however leads to Sasha honestly admitting she has a problem, which is a step toward authenticity. Afterward, Sasha feels relieved, and senses a connection to the woman, which can be seen as a redemptive moment.
The woman stares at Sasha, and Sasha wonders what the woman sees in her face. Sasha wants to stare into the mirror again—she wonders if something about herself might be revealed—but she doesn’t turn. Sasha realizes that the woman is close to her age, and thinks she probably has children at home. The woman agrees not to say anything. Sasha thanks her, and feels a rush of relief as the Xanax kicks in.
Sasha senses the woman sees something in her that she can’t see in herself, which illuminates her struggle with identity. Realizing that the woman is her age and likely has children at home points toward Sasha’s insecurity around aging and family.
Sasha and Alex leave the hotel and walk through the Tribeca neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. Sasha hates the neighborhood since the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11th. The buildings had always given her hope. She feels tired of Alex, having moved past the desire to find connection through shared experience, to a feeling that they know one another too well.
The novel pays specific attention to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and focuses on the changes these events had on the characters and the nation. The shift in Sasha’s feeling from wanting connection to then feeling too connected suggests that Sasha does not know herself or what she wants.
Sasha and Alex talk about the wallet incident. Sasha lies, telling him she found the wallet in the bathroom behind a planter. Alex finds it strange, stating that the woman seemed like she did it on purpose to get attention. One thing he has learned in New York City is that it is hard to tell who people really are. Everyone seems to have multiple personalities, he says. Sasha tells him he will get used to it.
By describing the strangeness of the woman’s actions, Alex unknowingly comments on Sasha. Sasha steals for a specific reason, and though it is not for attention, it is for a feeling of connection. Alex notes that, in his mind, New Yorkers struggle with authenticity.
They arrive at Sasha’s apartment, where she has lived for six years. She keeps the things she has stolen on display around the apartment. Her bathtub, which is in the kitchen, impresses Alex. Sasha tells Alex she never uses it since she showers at the gym. Alex loves the apartment, and tells Sasha it feels like old New York. Sasha tries to see the apartment as Alex does. She believes the charm of New York will fade for Alex, the way it has for her. She also thinks that Alex will forget her.
Keeping her stolen objects around makes Sasha feel close to other individuals. Alex’s reaction to the apartment as “old New York” speaks to a desire and appreciation for the past. He is still enthralled by NYC, but Sasha no longer sees the charm in the place. She understands the way things change, and knows that Alex will change too, leaving her as a blank spot in his memory.
In the living room, Alex asks Sasha about the stolen objects laid out on tables around the apartment. Sasha then remembers stealing a child’s scarf—she remembers it falling from the child, and the excuses she told herself to keep it. When she brought the scarf home, she washed it by hand, and folded it neatly. It is one of her favorite objects. Sasha is drawn to Alex as he looks at the objects, which she sees as years of her life compressed. She feels as if Alex were looking at the raw and warped core of her life. She kisses him, and pulls him to the floor.
The scarf is an important object to Sasha because it is related to childhood. She longs for the past, and also feels insecure about being an older woman without children. Alex’s attention to her objects makes Sasha feel connected to him, as if the objects allow him to know her in a more intimate way, though Alex doesn’t necessarily understand this. This feeling of connection inspires Sasha to reach for more intimacy.
After they finish having sex, Sasha is left with a terrible sadness. Alex asks Sasha if he can take a bath in the tub. He leaves the room, and Sasha collapses onto a chair. As Alex draws his bath, Sasha sees his jeans on the floor. He comes back into the room, and stares again at the stolen objects. He asks if he can use a packet of bath salts (which Sasha stole from her friend, Lizzie, before they stopped speaking). Sasha never uses the objects she steals, feeling it would imply greed or self-interest. When she agrees to let Alex use the salts, she feels she has taken a symbolic step, but is unable to tell whether it is in a good or bad direction.
Despite the intimate moment, Sasha is left feeling sad. She felt that Alex momentarily knew her through the stolen objects, but he does not understand the significance of the moment. The bath salts are another example of the way in which Sasha’s stealing has ruined relationships, leaving her disconnected. By not using the stolen objects, Sasha signals that she is not stealing out of greed—she steals to feel connection, which is the opposite of self-interest.
Alex puts the salts in the bath, and Sasha is reminded of Lizzie’s bathroom, where she would shower after they went running in Central Park. Alex goes to the bathroom, and after closing the door Sasha takes his wallet from the pocket of his jeans. Sasha sifts through the contents, until a little scrap of paper falls out. The paper is very old and torn at the edges. It says I BELIEVE IN YOU. Sasha feels ashamed for having gone through Alex’s wallet. Before Alex comes out, she puts his wallet back, but keeps the piece of paper.
The act of going through Alex’s wallet shows Sasha quickly slipping back into her addiction. The paper she steals is meaningful to Alex, and therefor something she associates with his identity. The shame she feels suggests the ruinous nature of her addiction, but she keeps the paper anyways—perhaps both for its connection to Alex and for the message it bears.
The narrative then cuts to the therapist’s office. Coz asks Sasha if she put the paper back. Sasha says she didn’t have a chance, but Coz is skeptical. She wishes she could tell him that stealing the paper was a turning point, that she reconnected with her friend Lizzie, and that she has changed. She asks Coz not to ask her how she feels, and he agrees. They sit there in silence, and Sasha is aware of the minutes of Coz’s time slipping away.
Sasha has the chance to tell Coz about the successes and changes in her life, but she chooses not to. She worries about who she will become at the end of the story she is “writing” with Coz, and doesn’t want to end it. In this moment, she is still afraid to connect to her authentic feelings. The story ends on the idea of time slipping away, which connects back to Sasha’s worries about the future and longing for the past.