Eight stories about the idea of Eden—the serpent just out of sight—in a promising debut.
The characters here attempt to create havens for themselves, small spaces that deny the disappointment of a dispiriting reality. The opening tale, “Rug Weaver,” examines the displacement of Ebrahim, an Iranian Jew now living in LA. Imprisoned for a time when the Shah was deposed, Ebrahim waited for death (he assumed) by weaving an allegorical rug through the bars of his prison cell window. The solace became a passion as he was able to grasp paradise in the mundane. But now, living with his son and his perky, blond daughter-in-law, he feels an isolation as acute as that in the prison cell, but without the consolation of his imaginary rug. In the title story, a New England couple escape to southern California after their son’s death from AIDS. They spend their weekends touring suburban housing developments, perfect, manicured places that seem to deny the possibility of death. And in “December Birthday” another older couple, Holocaust survivors, try to keep their grown daughter “safe” from the world by keeping her childlike. Far the two best are “The Consolations of Art,” a sweetly told tale of an old man whose feisty new caretaker is able to respark his interest in life, and “Camping In,” an oddly menacing piece about an affluent young mother and the adolescent girl she hires to tidy up everyday. The underprivileged girl becomes strangely proprietorial about the grand house, pushing the mother to the point of paranoia. The ending novella, “The Palm Tree of Dilys Cathcart,” has a touch of Anita Brookner. A middle-aged English music teacher is asked by her neighbor, an Orthodox Jew, to transcribe the music he hears in his head when studying the Kabala. The two form a purely working relationship, but too much prior loneliness soon has Dilys wandering in kosher markets and dreamily considering conversion.
Smart, well rounded—suggesting very good things to come.