Novelist/essayist Volk (White Light, not reviewed) pens a stylishly written memoir that’s really a series of portraits of the memorable characters who make up her extended family.
It’s a simple approach, if you can pull it off: one beguiling vignette after another, and a good number of welcome reprises. Volk’s classy prose, as smooth on its wheels as a Bentley, makes it work like a wonder. Hers is a Jewish, New York City restaurant family whose members conducted a high-octane love affair with one another—well, all except for Aunt Lil, who “went through life thinking she got the small half.” There are the distant relatives who glitter like stars in the family firmament: the paternal great-grandfather who brought pastrami to New York City in 1888, the aunt who sported the “Best Legs in Atlantic City” in 1916. There’s the woman who worked for them: “It was a bizarre New York Jewish sensibility that we could somehow protect Millie from prejudice by never acknowledging there was such a thing as color.” But mostly there is the benign despot of a father, a godhead, a man who inspires such love in Volk that it aches; the glamorous mother who cooked only one dinner Volk can remember (it tasted like licorice roast); and the sister with whom she fought sibling trench warfare, who has incontrovertible proof that her bones are big (she had them measured by electrodes) and who packs the kind of worldly wisdom that sets reality squarely in sight: “I know every diet. Here’s the trick, okay? Here’s all you have to know: Eat less.” Volk’s conclusion? “They were mine, I was lucky to have them.”
And would she ever make them proud in these pages. Emotionally luxurious and heart-gladdening. (22 photos)