Still, she says, her New York, like that of many New Yorkers, is one that is no longer quite there. “You know, when I arrived in the city in 1976, New York was financially a wreck,” she remembers. “But to me it’s the New York that Matthew and I literally try to find every day of our lives. It was the best place in the world. It was literature. It promised everything. And for someone who loved food and smells and stimulation, who was rocked to sleep by the sound of taxis—well, there’s just so much money now, and the city is so affluent, and all the colors, all the shops, the look of a street from block to block is just terribly absent of distinguishing coffee shops, bodegas. All of that stuff that made it possible to live in New York is gone.” Even Brooklyn is “very chic” now, she adds. “I guess there are places in Queens that are affordable.”
She recommends that I watch Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman, which she calls an earlier version of Sex and the City, set in a far rawer seventies Manhattan. (It is: Netflix it; I recommend it.) She also brings up an 1891 novel called New Grub Street, by George Gissing. “There’s this protagonist, this leading character who is really battling art versus commerce,” she explains, sipping on a dark-green health drink. “All of his friends are having enormous success serializing their books, and he’s really reluctant to be that person, but he knows in order to survive—literally in order to survive, because those times were so freaking bleak—that he’s, like, this crucible. And, I believe, there was a girl in his life who wants the finer things, and there is the great story.”
Broderick recommended the book to her. The two share an interest in Victorian literature; their 5-year-old son, James Wilkie, is named after Matthew’s father and Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone, one of the couple’s favorite books. And in fact, Broderick’s influence on Parker rises into almost every conversation we have. Parker is clearly fascinated by her husband: his values, his style, his mind. In her portrait, he’s at once an old fogey and a computer geek, a pessimist and a guide to life—the very opposite of a bullshit artist, a kind of lie detector in a world of fluff. As a parent, she’s the more traditional of the two, she says, the one who is (like her mother was) concerned with etiquette, the “primary caretaker.” Yet Matthew “has this soft, porous part of him that is more transparent to me since we’ve had a son. I think it’s just who he has become.”
She can be hilariously unguarded about saying things that, when taken out of context, might seem absurdly suggestive. For instance, when I talk about my husband, who like Broderick is a science geek and a gadget-hound, she suggests that we should set them up as friends. “Matthew doesn’t have enough friends,” she tells me, sounding very mother-hennish and adding that Matthew has mostly gay friends in New York. Because this is such a crazy thing to say to a reporter—surely she knows that the higher her star has risen, the more the gossips insist her marriage must be a fake—I decide that this means that Matthew is definitely not gay.
“He’s very bright,” she tells me. “He’s very dry, and he’s a contrarian, because he enjoys it. And he’s not soft, and he basically turns out to be a very good judge of character, and it just wasn’t his nature prior to having a child to be—he’s kind of immune to anything that even stank of being treacly or insipid.” Broderick’s mother, a writer and painter who died in 2003, was the same way, she adds. “It really was anathema. They just had an allergy to it.”
The couple have led oddly parallel lives. As teens, they played iconic whiz kids: Ferris Bueller and Square Pegs’ Patty Green. Both are half-Jewish, from theater families with actor dads. But whereas Broderick is a native New Yorker, a graduate of Walden raised in the Village in an intellectual, slightly intimidating clan, Parker arrived in an overcrowded red VW van from Cincinnati—a poor kid with seven siblings who hovered on the border between theater gypsy and welfare case. Her family camped out on Roosevelt Island for a time: “It was meant to be a Utopia,” she says. (“It was slightly like a penal colony,” recalls her brother Pippin, a playwright and director.) But it was Woody Allen’s “rarefied and special” Manhattan Parker was seeking, a fantasy she had picked up from a mother who kept up her subscriptions to New York periodicals even when they were living in the Midwest.