EMOTIONAL ARITHMETIC by Matt Cohen

EMOTIONAL ARITHMETIC

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strenuously inward-looking novel by Canadian writer Cohen (Nadine, 1987, etc.), stressing the sad fact that the torments of one generation are viewed as out of focus--or, worse, simply tiresome--by the next. Set in bucolic farm country near Toronto, with flashbacks to a WW II concentration camp and a Russian mental hospital, the story centers on Melanie Winters: witty, still beautiful, manic in her unhappiness. She receives a visit in her latest sanitarium from son Benjamin, who sees his trips to her as ""exercises in the emotional arithmetic of love and hate, time past and time remaining, injustices suffered and revenge meted out."" Certainly, Melanie brought a fierce judgment to her marriage to historian David Winters, a union marked by wild break-ups and serendipitous reconciliations. Part of her turbulence comes from her past: At nine, Melanie was interned in the Nazi camp at Drancy, way station to Auschwitz. There, she met Christopher Lewis, then 11. The two children, starving, had pressed their shaved heads together and escaped death, protected and liberated from terror by the ""magical"" Jakob Bronski, an older man ""thin as sticks."" Now, Bronski, released from a Russian asylum (miraculously saved by his fame as poet and translator), is coming to Canada, accompanied by Christopher, who lives in Paris and writes pop historical novels. They stay at the Winters' family farm where, under thundering skies and gentle trees, Bronski contemplates his exile and grapples with burning memories: a baby daughter left, his passion for a dying woman who also possessed his rage that failed to change the world. Reunited, Melanie, Christopher, and Jakob are flung into a searing updraft of love, grief, and confusion. Before the strange, calm resolution, there will be desperate sex, a boozy prowl, and a rifle shot in the early dawn. Cohen wraps his characters in sometimes smothering sensibilities, but, still, they're strong and freestanding--and their utterances (inward and otherwise) have potency, wit, and inherent energy.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1552639002
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: St. Martin's