A lyrical novel that takes place over three generations and that reminds us of the arduousness, and even desolation, of love relationships—between husband and wife, spouse and lover, mother and daughter.
The fury at the center of the narrative is embodied in Eleanor Bernstein, whose relationships with her husband Aaron, her daughter Rosa and her countless lovers—both friends and strangers—are equal sources of elation and agony. Espinosa (Incognito: Journey of a Secret Jew, 2002, etc.) knows how to chronicle amatory ambivalence. Eleanor’s relationship to Aaron, a sculptor with an artistic temperament and numerous casual lovers, is emotionally tempestuous though sexually unexciting. Because Eleanor had grown up an imaginative child in a world of privilege, she doesn’t accommodate herself easily to the demands of adulthood and motherhood. For a while, the primary relationship in Eleanor’s life is with Heinrich, a family friend who devolves into a lover. Aaron and Eleanor raise Rosa in a hothouse of pretense and intensity, so much so that Rosa has a breakdown in early adulthood and is diagnosed as schizophrenic. After a tenuous recovery, and against the wishes of both her mother and her psychiatrist, Rosa moves to Paris and takes up with the flamboyant and charismatic Antonio. They get married two weeks before the birth of their daughter, and Eleanor voyages to Paris to witness the birth of her grandchild. But when Rosa is in the hospital awaiting delivery, Antonio first rapes his mother-in-law and then begins an affair with her. Antonio expresses his insight into Eleanor’s character by stating the obvious: that her primary mode of communication is through sex. After the turbulence and frenzy of her many sexual encounters, Eleanor ages, her body succumbing to arthritis and eventually cancer. During this time she grows more reflective and is able to reconcile some of the demands of her body with the realities of physical deterioration.
A fierce novel that explores the topography of passion and grace.