"Wexler mixes humor, nostalgia, and reflection in her second collection of essays and short fiction."– Kirkus Reviews
Wexler (Milk and Oranges, 2015, etc.) mixes humor, nostalgia, and reflection in her second collection of essays and short fiction.
The book opens with a recounting of a day in the life of a Chicago teen in 1959. The author offers a loving but cleareyed reminiscence of working in her father’s drugstore that sets the tone for the first section, which deals with her own coming-of-age in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The following sections take on different topics, including lighthearted memories of pets and general observations of human nature and life. The longest section, about family and friends, also contains the strongest piece in the book, “Loss and Grief,” which recounts the death of Wexler’s 12-year-old son from leukemia. She delves into her raw emotions of grieving, and particularly her anger: “The sun and I were angry all the time, but it was our secret.” A subsequent remembrance of the dog that helped Wexler through her grief suggests that this powerful theme could carry a full-length memoir. The final section, which includes several poems, takes on the weighty topics of growing older and mortality, but in a high-spirited way. In the last essay, “When I’m Gone,” Wexler plans her own funeral. Although many of the longer essays are affecting, some seem superficial, such as a brief perusal of an autograph book she found in a closet. Full-color photographs illustrate several selections, but other than some family photos, they don’t add much. A few short stories are mixed in with the essays and poetry; the title story, in which several cousins gather for a family funeral, reflects on the enduring strength of family bonds. “Band of Girls,” about a maverick running for president of her sorority in 1963, has a strong opening but no real resolution. These tales seem out of place next to the personal remembrances that make up the bulk of the book, and might have been better saved for a fiction collection.
Remembrances of a long life in an uneven but mostly satisfying collection.
Lori Weinberg contends with her husband’s alcoholism, her daughter’s illness and her aloof mother’s Holocaust past in this piece of women’s fiction.
Lori’s husband, Jerry, falls off the wagon at their son’s wedding and is hauled off to a police station. “Can you believe the hell I’ve gone through with this man for the last thirty years?” she cries to her longtime best friend, Adele. The novel then shifts from 2001 to 1970, when Jerry takes Lori, raised in a posh North Shore suburb, into a lower-class Chicago neighborhood to meet his family. The Brills are more boisterous and strictly observant Jews than Lori’s family, which consists only of a “mom who is always sick, and a dad who is always gone.” Lori soon marries Jerry and becomes mother to Julie and Barry. Jerry works as a salesman for the dental equipment business that is only one source of income for Adele’s more successful husband, Jim. It then becomes increasingly apparent that Jerry is an alcoholic; plus, one of his brothers is always hatching financial schemes. When 14-year-old Julie is diagnosed with leukemia, Lori puts all other concerns on hold to deal with the brave girl’s journey, which includes a desire to visit Israel. As several deaths unfold, Lori forces Jerry to go into rehab in Arizona, where she meets Rain, a free-spirited woman with surprising connections to Chicago. The novel concludes in 2003, with Lori now able to stand on her own, empowered by a trip to Germany that unlocked the secrets of her now-dead mother’s sorrow. Author Wexler wrote several murder mysteries prior to penning this tale of a sheltered yet relatable woman facing a significant array of life challenges. Wexler’s scenes featuring Julie’s illness are particularly strong, being both heartfelt and heartbreaking. Lori’s attitude toward her husband is more puzzling; she often seems unsympathetic, even when his own childhood issues are exposed. Lori’s dynamics with female friends, her mother and her Jewish heritage are all intriguing but feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped within this expansive novel.
Engaging, sweeping saga of a contemporary wife and mother.