A cerebral, heartwarming story that proves that even grown-ups can face growing pains.


In Schiff’s (The First Supper, 2014) novel, the three adult Gerson siblings, devastated by the loss of their parents, examine their own lives and get a healthy dose of self-discovery.

Elaina Beth “Laine” Gerson, the eldest sister in her family, is a prosecutor whose sharp tongue has proven more successful in lawsuits than in love. (The newspapers call her the “wicked bitch of the East.”) She’s been unable to win the affection of a nice Jewish man, like her late parents would have wanted. The problem, she thinks, is that Jewish men find her too familiar; for example, when she meets would-be suitor Peter Goodman, she describes his reaction: “It was a look that flatly stated ‘I know you. From Hebrew school, from my teen tour to Israel, from the Chinese restaurant I go to every Christmas.’ ” After another failed attempt at romance and an emotional breakdown, she finds that a Gentile man may hold the key to her heart. Meanwhile, middle child and technology whiz Michael is lukewarm about the latest in a string of Gentile girlfriends, whom he dates as a form of rebellion against his Jewish identity. Patricia Lewis, whom he nicknames “Patty-cake,” has been expecting a proposal any day now—and she’s in for a disappointment. Youngest sister Rachel gives birth to twins, but she firmly takes a back seat in this narrative, often as the moderator between her two stronger-willed siblings. Schiff unifies the storylines with references to the titular Sand Game—an annual endurance competition in which Laine and Michael bury each other in sand. This smart romantic comedy is the second novel that Schiff has adapted from one of her plays, so it contains more repartee and introspection than fast-paced action. The Gersons’ internal conflicts about their Jewish heritage feature heavily in the narrative, but the basic human need to be loved is the most prominent theme. The author makes Laine and Michael both sympathetic and fallible, and she sharply defines the secondary characters, as well; Glinda (nee Glenn) Armstrong, a transgender waitress who floats in and out of Laine’s life, is a particularly memorable figure. Some turns of phrase are simply magical: “Rays of light...bounced around the city like Mexican jumping beans, turning dull green park benches into emerald thrones and humdrum taxicabs into lemon drop carriages.”

A cerebral, heartwarming story that proves that even grown-ups can face growing pains.

Pub Date: July 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5349-8861-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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