A sincere and pleasing first novel, winner of the 1994 Jewish Book Award for fiction, ventures into the life of a young woman coming to terms with her mother's death. Sheila Hersh is not happy. By day she's stuck in her father's Toronto store, Hersh's House of Mattresses, writing ad copy and inventing such winning slogans as ``I GUARANTEE IT!!!'' By night she mingles with the downtown art crowd, having the dubious distinction of starring in the underground film Blue Sheila, a movie she's desperately trying to keep from release. Life seems to have veered off track and brought her to this lonesome place when her mother died six years ago. She left the university, stayed home, and went to work for her father, Abe—ostensibly to look after him, although it becomes apparent that she's the one longing to be looked after. One thing, however, has held her interest over the years—a slim volume of German poetry found buried behind her family's National Geographic collection. The book's origin is a mystery, as is its author, a young Viennese woman who died in 1938 at the age of 23. Sheila has spent years translating the poems, divining their meaning and the meaning of her own obsession. Finally, she and her father make a pilgrimage to Vienna—she to solve the Charlotte Reissmann mystery, Abe to end his long, quiet mourning. The plot and secret of the poems, though, are hardly central to the appeal of Fagan's novel, which needs only rely on the easy charm of the characters. From Abe and Sheila, and the tender relationship between them, to boisterous Aunt Ettie, debonair Uncle Lou, and the eccentric new women in Abe's life, the story is peopled with comic gems who lend a lighthearted touch to the whole piece. A debut both heartfelt and funny, especially well-tuned to the description of this quirky Jewish family.
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