A cleareyed and adeptly composed investigation of a marriage.

ONE NIGHT WITH LILITH

A devastating fire causes a couple in crisis to look back over their long marriage in Golan’s (Where Things Are When You Lose Them, 2008, etc.) literary novel.

Rob and Amy Lerner are sitting in their favorite restaurant deciding to get divorced while, a few blocks away, their house burns to the ground. The fire destroys Amy’s painting studio and all of her art; Rob’s home office and all the material related to his import business; and every object, photograph, and heirloom that they owned. The couple is left staring at the rubble of their lives “like the body of a loved one under a sheet. The house was like that, a lost loved one.” The two met many years earlier in New York City, where Amy, then named Geller, was a promising—if unconfident—artist, and Rob worked as a Yeshiva teacher to avoid a military draft. At the time, Rob identified Amy with Lilith—the first wife of Adam who wouldn’t submit to his dominion, who’s sometimes interpreted as a demon and stealer of children: “To Rob Lerner [Lilith] was simply the woman you will never tire of, never look at without lust, who will never lose her mystery, the woman who will make you whole.” The couple’s relationship was always combustive, however, and even after they marry, find financial success, and raise a son, Marco, the couple is haunted by events from their pasts—Amy’s brother Mickey’s death and the traumas of Rob’s Holocaust-survivor father, Sol. The novel reviews their rocky relationship and asks where, exactly, it all went wrong. Also, how did the fire, which punctuated their dissolution, start? And what does Rob’s identification of Amy with Lilith—whom Sol claims to have seen in a Polish orchard during the war—say about the couple? Golan’s prose is exact and insightful and full of lines that encapsulate the particular deficiencies of the Lerners’ marriage: “They had grown over the years to dislike each other with a passion that would have been admirable, perhaps breathtakingly beautiful, had it been love.” He constructs the characters of Rob and Amy in a deliberate manner and with great attention to detail. With incredible specificity, the author manages to present an affecting and recognizable portrait of coupledom, and as the storylines grow, their thorny lives become more deeply intertwined. Amy, in particular, is a fully imagined being—knowable when the reader takes her side and completely mysterious when the reader aligns with Rob. The Judaica in the story’s background lends it a slightly mystical mood, and it infuses the proceedings with a grim sense of inevitability. The book does drag in some places, and the reader may be forgiven for wanting to get back to the present-day plotline before realizing that the past is the main story. That said, Golan’s skillful and compelling character work is enough to keep the readers wondering, as Rob and Amy do, about the impossibility of happiness and the meaning of love.

A cleareyed and adeptly composed investigation of a marriage.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951214-49-4

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Adelaide Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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