Crisp snapshots of men and women conducting everyday lives, skirting the aches of both love and loss.
With a nod to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Karmel’s (Being Esther, 2013) short story collection opens with a woman planning, evolves through a series of meditations on the past, and ends with a party. The families of many of Karmel's characters have been brutalized by the Holocaust, and their lives are fraught with ghosts and trauma; her stories often abruptly break at the end, the emotional terrain too difficult to traverse. The narratives echo with memories of pots and pans confiscated by the Nazis, wedding photographs burned in concentration camps, flight from the ambiguous boundary between Poland and Russia, and a violence that reverberates from suburban parks to Iraq. Instead of planning an evening soiree like Clarissa Dalloway, Sophie is planning a visit to her grandmother’s grave, remembering her Nonna’s love of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, her refusal to accept the Arnaz divorce, her talented matchmaking, and her insistence on thoughtfully selected bouquets. In one of the more heartbreaking tales, Lydia cannot pass through her grief over her daughter’s death, creating a shrine made of jars of marmalade through which the sunlight conjures her presence —yet to Lydia's husband, Lyle, the marmalade symbolizes the past’s malevolent pull on their marriage. In the end, William Hill throws the closing party for his wife, Nora, who is quickly succumbing to breast cancer despite his hopes for one final moment of grace before his identity shifts from husband to widower. Blue silks and satins, sprigs of bougainvillea, mikvahs performed in the still water of a backyard swimming pool—these and other leitmotifs thread through several of the stories, tethering the characters to each other and creating a mournful harmony.
Beautifully wistful, quiet portraits of grief.