Two novellas about erotic obsession, by Israeli author Grossman (Someone to Run With, 2004, etc.).
The first, “Frenzy,” details the strange case of Shaul, an Israeli civil servant. Now 55, he has been married for 25 years to Elisheva, who runs a day care center. Every morning, Elisheva leaves for her ritual swim, ostensibly, but Shaul knows better; she is actually enjoying trysts with Paul, a Soviet Union immigrant she once counseled. This has been going on for ten years, like clockwork. Shaul tolerates the infidelity, mentioning nothing. On a long car ride, he confides all to his sister-in-law Esti, who realizes that the trysts are Shaul’s fantasies. Shaul’s own sex life with his wife has dwindled to the joyless coupling of sleepwalkers, and, as a counterbalance, thinks Esti, he feasts masochistically on encounters that satisfy body and soul, “the essence of his life.” For the reader, Shaul is never more than a case history who needs to get a life, and the other piece, “In Another Life,” is equally contrived. Rotem is an Israeli woman writer who has relocated to London but is now back in Israel to visit her dying mother, Nili. Their relationship has been troubled. Nili was a sometimes neglectful mother who once abandoned Rotem and her sisters to go on a wild-goose chase for a former yoga student. Now, Rotem is reading to her mother her fictional reconstruction of that key episode. In her version, Nili is teaching yoga at a rundown Dead Sea resort when she becomes enchanted by 15-year-old Kobi, a desperately unhappy youth who has attempted suicide. Kobi responds positively to her exercises, which culminate in Nili’s massage of the naked boy. Though the language is drenched in eroticism, the chaste teacher-student prevails in an uncomfortable standoff. Nili never finds her Kobi, but the reconstruction purges mother and daughter of their old resentments.
Lackluster studies with little narrative payoff.