BESS AND FRIMA by Alice Rosenthal


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A pair of best friends yearns for love and a larger life. 

Two young women: one blonde, one brunette; one conventional, one rebellious. Both Jewish; both employed in the Catskills for the summer tourist season. Both 19. Rosenthal’s (Take the D Train, 2012) new novel is set in 1940 and concerns a pair of Bronx-raised best friends. Frima spends the summer working at her mother’s resort; Bess works at another hotel not far away. Frima falls in love with Bess’ handsome brother, Jack, also employed by her mother that summer. Bess strays a bit afield: She catches the eye of Vinny, an Italian labor organizer. Her brother disapproves, but by the end of the summer, Bess has made some radical plans—to move away from home and, even more shocking, move in with Vinny. In alternating chapters, the novel tells the story from both girls’ points of view. That structure doesn’t quite work: It feels a little too on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other, especially since the characters are set up to be opposites. Worse is the air of sentimentality that pervades the book, overwhelming brief attempts at humor. Rosenthal’s prose is adequate and her subject matter not uninteresting, but the story feels utterly conventional. This terrain is already well-traversed. Her characters never come fully to life as themselves—only as two-dimensional foils for each other. The dialogue doesn’t convince; nor do the characters’ various motivations. We’re told that Bess, for example, longs to leave home because her parents make her miserable. But we’re never shown why or how they do so. Unconvincing in these smaller details, the novel remains unconvincing as a whole.

Sentimentality and a lack of original material prevent this novel from coming to life.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63152-439-4
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: She Writes Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2018


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