Cerebral first novel about a postwar Jewish-American couple who refuse to fit in the box society assigns them.
As his wife, Myrmy, remarks, Army veteran and traveling necktie salesman Dan has interests different than most Jewish men in the early 1960s. He gravitates towards physical activities like boxing and weightlifting, but he also cooks dinner for his family on most nights. Myrmy, for her part, rejects housedresses in favor of high heels, working as an advertising executive in New York even after her sons are born. The couple live in an upscale suburb, to which they are relegated after a realtor tells them that their first choice is not for people “like them.” They raise three boys while battling such hardships as Myrmy’s dangerous bout with pneumonia and Dan’s troubling ailments provoked by a thyroid burned out from radiation exposure during his military service. Their life together isn’t perfect, but when Dan suddenly dies, Myrmy realizes that it is impossible in many ways to understand herself without him. Alternate, nearly stream-of-consciousness narrations by Myrmy and Dan deftly delineate their respective methods of dealing with the same issues. In the most poignant instance, she makes smart retorts to an acquaintance who brings up her miscarriage, while he silently fumes at his smug neighbors and their six healthy daughters. The novel is hardly plot-driven, and sticking with it takes patience. But in flitting seamlessly from the mundane details of daily life to broader questions of love, family, priorities and death, the author has created a startlingly realistic depiction of the way the mind functions.
Not for everyone, but undeniably impressive and well executed.