Reflective stories about family relationships—parent-child, grandparent-child, brother-brother, husband-wife—with a focus on generally nonobservant Jews.
Nadler seems to know his characters inside-out and spins out their foibles and frailties in a leisurely fashion. In the first story, “In the Book of Life,” Abe Rivkin has a brief fling with the seductive but manipulative daughter of his longtime friend and business partner, Larry Reinstein—and then discovers that Larry has been having an affair with Abe’s wife. In “Winter on the Sawtooth,” Josh returns home after four months at Stanford to find out his mother is having an affair with the teacher of her memoir-writing course. While Josh’s father knows but doesn’t approve of his wife’s dalliance, Josh, who during his first semester has started to take religion seriously, is angered by his father’s passivity as well as by his mother’s infidelity. In “The Moon Landing,” two brothers, Charlie and Dave, try to come to terms with the death of their parents, who passed away only days apart. Charlie has been trying to make it as a writer in Hollywood and has had modest success with a B-movie script, while Dave is the “successful” son, an affluent attorney who stayed near his parents in Boston but who harbors resentment against Charlie’s abandonment. “Beyond Any Blessing,” the final story in the collection, and one of the best, introduces us to Daniel, whose parents died when he was seven and who was raised by his elderly grandfather, a rabbi. Now, at the age of 90, his grandfather has been let go due to infidelity, and Daniel tries both to help him and to come to terms with his own restless and unintelligible life.
Nadler is a writer’s writer, a fine observer of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of character.