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.