The co-founder of Ms. (Getting Over Getting Older, 1996, etc.) fashions a hectoring, including-the-kitchen-sink debut novel about three Jewish stepsisters’ feminist coming-of-age and then aging amid parental deceit.
The pages of her Filofax blast off the car roof on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City, leaving almost 50-year-old Shoshanna Safer (née Wasserman), who runs a business ordering other people’s lives, desperate to reestablish control over her own. Among the salvaged items: her aged rabbi father’s letter from Israel mandating that the entire family be present for his year’s-end lifetime achievement award, including his estranged daughter, Leah, whom Sam abandoned 50 years before in favor of a second marriage and stepdaughter Rachel. Leah is the juggernaut of this obsessively detailed family history, a soured, unrepentant founder of The Feminist Freethinker who became young Shoshanna’s role model and liberator from middle-class values. Now a professor surrounded by worshipful Schmendriks, Yiddish-spouting Leah no longer speaks to Rachel, the “fact fetishist” and properly religious older sister who, at 64, still lives out a fantasy of domesticity in her Long Island mansion—until her husband Jeremy’s web of philandering is finally exposed. Leah’s own past catches up to her when her two floundering sons desert her, and her husband, Leo, begins a sad slide into depression, while goody-goody Rachel embarks on a long-postponed career of becoming a rabbi. Over meals at chichi New York restaurants and a consciousness-raising Seder, Pogrebin lectures the reader on, among other things, Israeli policies, feminist history (First Wave, Second Wave), The Woman’s Bible, and the politics of circumcision, all the while peppering her dialogue with quotes from T.S. Eliot, Anaïs Nin, and Sarah Grimke. The story’s fighting spirit dissolves into a manifesto for modern Jewish living as the Wasserman family moves toward end-of-the-century reconciliation.
Is this a novel or doctored Filofax pages from a lifetime of hoarding and culling?