MISSING by Michelle Herman


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This first novella by Herman--a graduate of the generational anthology 20 Under 30 (1986)--suffers from the limitations of its controlling consciousness--a near 90-year-old widow living in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn. Rivke Vasilovsky's inner life is boring, and with little consequence for readers. Even to her family, she's an admittedly ""difficult person."" She harbors nothing but dislike for all her children's spouses--""strangers,"" even though some have been married for 50 years. Rivke's disagreeable nature further reveals itself in her obsessive concern--her mishegass--for some missing black beads, of no real value, which she hopes to make into a necklace for her favorite grandchild, Rachel, an unmarried photographer. The beads (which are misplaced, not stolen) provide some narrative structure to Rivke's meandering thoughts and memories. One minute she bemoans the Russian immigrants who've taken over the neighborhood; the next she broods over her husband's unwillingness many years ago to let her attend English language classes at night. Despite this one resentment, her 72-year marriage to Sol proves to be the answer to her own much-belated question: ""For what was all her life?"" The children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren figure little in her sepia-toned existential musings. Her children appear mostly as disappointments, and she can't keep the names straight in the later generations. Rivke's selective memory ill serves her account of passage from Poland to the Lower East Side to Brooklyn, a story Rachel pursues with Roots-like vigor. Herman details with great precision a lonely old woman's petty memories, as well as the mundanities of her present life (from keeping her pills straight to maneuvering in and out of the tub). But authenticity here is no reward: it turns a short story into a long kvetch.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1990
Publisher: Ohio State Univ. Press