A mild first novel about an unhappy older woman whose life brightens when she hires a new assistant for her lingerie shop in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Sima’s marriage to Lev, a retired teacher, has been a long slog of mutual loneliness ever since Sima realized she could not have children. Although she can be charming with her female customers, whose daily life Stanger-Ross captures with a lively eye for detail, Sima has become a bitter, shrewish wife to passive Lev, whose every tic annoys her. But from the moment Timna, a beautiful Israeli girl staying with family in Brooklyn, wonders into the lingerie shop Sima runs in the basement of her Boro Park house, Sima’s life begins to change. Timna not only brings youthful energy to the shop and willingly chats with Lev, she also willingly shares her joys and worries with Sima. Waiting for her boyfriend to finish his compulsory military service, she has met some fast-lane Israelis in New York. She seems the daughter Sima always dreamed of having: beautiful, energetic, loving. Fascinated by Timna’s adventures and increasingly dependent on her, almost obsessed, Sima remembers her unsatisfactory relationship with her own mother and the early years of her marriage, when she and Lev shared moments of genuine happiness before she learned the secret she has held back from him all these years: her infertility stems from scars left by a cured venereal disease she contracted during a brief adolescent fling. Sima’s coldness toward Lev stems from her guilt. When she finally tells him the truth, he says it wasn’t worth ruining their marriage. Meanwhile, Sima is worried about Timna, whom she suspects, based on circumstantial evidence, is pregnant. Following Timna into Manhattan, Sima has a near romantic encounter of her own. Eventually Timna reunites with her boyfriend and goes on with her life, while Sima and Lev resuscitate their moribund relationship.
Filled with gentle uplift, but sorry-for-herself Sima is a difficult heroine to like.