SWELL by Jill Eisenstadt


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In the immediate wake of 9/11, a young family uproots their lives in Manhattan to resettle in a ramshackle Rockaway beach house—and, over the course of one momentous weekend, finds a whole lot more drama than they bargained for.

Desperate for a new place to live and short on cash, Dan and Sue Glassman are vulnerable when Dan's curmudgeonly father, Sy, makes them an offer too convenient to refuse: if Sue, now pregnant with the couple’s third child, will finally convert to Judaism, Sy will buy the family a beach house in Rockaway, with the controversial caveat that he’ll also live there. And this time, though she has resisted conversion for years, Sue acquiesces: “Blame hormones or love or the post-terror downtown stench, but moving suddenly seemed like the only option.” But the house comes with baggage of its own, and when the previous owner, Rose—a plucky 90-year-old who, less than a decade earlier, got away with (literal) murder in the dining room—wheels up to the front door the weekend of Sue’s conversion party and refuses to leave, the family’s best-laid plans are thrown into chaos. If Rose is telling the truth, the house has been sold without her consent; if she isn’t, the fact remains that they still have to figure out what to do with the geriatric force of nature squatting on the premises. But while they don’t know it, the Glassmans have something of an unlikely guardian in their next-door neighbor Tim Ray, a divorced ex-firefighter with half a nose who’s haunted by the mistakes of his booze-soaked past and feels an inexplicable attachment to the family. With tremendous tenderness, Eisenstadt (Kiss Out, 1991, etc.) captures the traumatized Rockaway of the early 2000s in swirling Technicolor, though her zany and colorful characters never quite manage to transcend their laundry lists of quirks to become fully human. But what the novel lacks in nuance, it makes up in heart.

A whimsical portrait of a still-raw community that mostly hits the mark.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-31690-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2017


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