by Allegra Goodman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
With wit, panache, and genuine affection for her characters, Goodman (Total Immersion, 1989) offers a saga of an archetypal Jewish-American family. Though ostensibly a novel, many of the ""chapters"" here were originally published in The New Yorker as short stories, giving the work the feel of a collection, a photo album offering both casual snapshots and formal portraits of the family's history. A lack of narrative cohesion is sometimes discernible, then, as each chapter takes up a different relative during the last 15 years or so of the family life. Still, the slight discrepancies and holes in the chronicle are only mildly disruptive, for Goodman creates a wonderful collection of genuine individuals. The book begins with 73-year-old Rose Markowitz at the deathbed of her beloved second husband Maury. Popping Percodans, suffering through a visit from Maury's estranged and overbearing Israeli daughter, Rose is doing all she can to retain dignity in the midst of difficulties, including her sons' bickering financial advice. The aging Rose makes several appearances later in the narrative, though the tangled lives of her two children, Henry and Ed, take center stage. The Anglophilic Henry, a second-rate art dealer in Venice Beach, transforms himself, becoming the manager of a Laura Ashley boutique in Oxford (while changing sexual preferences midstream). Meanwhile, Middle East scholar Ed wages small battles with life's encroaching difficulties: Rose's overdoses and illnesses, his daughter Miriam's new fanatical orthodoxy, and the small, persistent indignities and peculiarities of the scholarly life. These trials and tribulations are hardly as prosaic as they sound, for humor and compassion abound; Goodman draws the reader into the family circle with such deftness and speed that these self-aware, determined characters all begin to seem remarkably and enjoyably familiar. A success for Goodman, offering a frank and funny depiction of the strains and intermittent but distinct joys of family relations.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 272
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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