HAND-ME-DOWNS by Rhea Kohan
Kirkus Star


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A luxuriously comic novel in which three awesome women of different generations raise Armageddon tempests in otherwise mild and humble familial teapots. Oldest of the volcanic trio is Malka--born in Russia and never popular (""no one would rise up to call her blessed"") in New York, where she's discovered dead by her despised daughter Helen only after a half-hour of the usual one-sided conversation. And, alas, years later in California, Helen finds the spirit of Malka ""Here she was back again""--in her own first-born, Marilyn: the grandmother's interior lava pit of fierce frustrations, her intelligence, scorn, and madness, ""had been handed down intact and unmistakable."" After all, Marilyn is horn screaming, swings the whip over her two sisters--good-natured Phyllis and meek Natalie and says she hates Helen (and means it); she's the kind of child who wouldn't clap for Tinker Bell. Marilyn is instead Daddy Lenny's girl--and with the keen aim of a stalking cheetah, she claims his total adoration. She even marries gentle CPA Ira merely because Daddy likes him, but later she shrugs off hubby and kids, pursuing her own law career. All this infuriates mama Helen, and after Lenny dies of cancer (a torment that nearly kills Marilyn too), full-scale war breaks out. Helen brings off a mating of Ira and dear, unprepossessing Natalie just when recuperating Marilyn is thinking of reacquiring him: Marilyn retaliates by ripping to pieces every one of Helen's plants. A cease-fire follows, true, yet at the close there are tiny inklings of revived sniper activity. . . Kohan's dialogue crackles; there are some marvelous originals (including a shrewd, Yiddish-accented Greek chorus in Lenny's mother); and there's a breadth of scale which admits both irony and hilarity, as giant passions are forced to play on a stage of Muppets Kohan (Save Me a Seat, 1979) is gaining in control and stature.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Random House