Second-novelist Cohen (The Organ Builder, 1988) offers an odd, occasionally moving tale of a man finding himself as the result of an unconventional friendship. Sam Karnish, 36, is going through a sort of premature midlife crisis. He's getting nowhere in his job as an editor at a newsweekly that bears a considerable resemblance to Time, and though his marriage broke up years ago, his relationship with his current girlfriend is no more satisfying. At the story's outset, he's on his way, reluctantly, to his best friend's wedding in Houston. On the plane, he meets a young Hasidic couple, Aaron and Magda Brenner. Gradually, he and Aaron begin to develop a sort of friendship, while, at the same time, Sam finds himself strangely drawn to the much younger, compulsively quiet Magda. Eventually, he'll be thrown together with Magda under trying—even tempting- -circumstances with a totally unpredictable result. Meanwhile, he begins to grope tentatively toward a new life at work and in his home life, spurred on by what he's learned from the Brenners. The story is told by Sam in a chatty voice that at first is full of chatty asides and unfunny joking. Gradually, however, as Sam slides into his personal maelstrom, the narration becomes more compelling, more fraught with desire and tension. Sam's candor, initially grating, becomes poignant and, finally, almost moving in its resignation to a life-long search for answers that aren't as readily apparent as Sam had previously thought. The early chapters, though, are often rough sledding, and much of the dialogue sounds forced and arch. Still, the climax, with its sheer uncertainty and Sam's growing acceptance of that uncertainty, has a cumulative force. A partial success, not entirely satisfying but well worth staying the course.
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