THE WHOLENESS OF A BROKEN HEART by Katie Singer

THE WHOLENESS OF A BROKEN HEART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A first novel revisits, over four generations, the exhaustively plumbed relationship between mothers and daughters who learn to accept each other only when it’s almost too late. Told against the background of recent Jewish history, the tale this time has several narrators. The strongest is 29-year-old Hannah Fried, a writing teacher and poet who, as she struggles to understand mother Celia’s increasingly bizarre treatment of her, tells her own as well the family’s story. That story is supplemented by contributions from Great-grandmothers Leah, who died in the Holocaust, and Channa, who emigrated from Russia; from Grandmother Ida in Cleveland; from Hannah’s own mother, Celia; and from such voices beyond the grave as Channa’s miscarried Vitl; and as Leo, a camp survivor who briefly dated Celia, then commuted suicide. These ghostly contributions serve mostly to describe the Holocaust and the fate of those family members who were unable to escape it. Until she was 20, Hannah and her mother were extremely close, but then abruptly Celia—who had divorced Hannah’s father Allan when Hannah was three and married gutless Norm—tells Hannah to move out of the house. For the next ten years, as she graduates, moves to Boston to write, teach, and eventually fall in love with Jonathan Lev, a photographer, Hannah struggles to understand Celia. She’s close to Grandmother Ida, but otherwise she spends a great deal of time thinking about her unhappiness. Her mother seems to have been abused by her own father, Moe, and then wounded by Leo’s suicide; so that, fearing her closeness to Hannah, she was driven to reject her. And yet Singer’s explanations for all her characters’ behaviors remain strained and schematic, though Hannah does eventually get through to Mom, who grudgingly suggests she can come back into her life—on her own terms, naturally. A novel written around an idea that, instead of liberating the tale’s possibilities, confines them like a kind of conceptual corset.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 1-57322-147-3
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




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