IN A COLD OPEN FIELD by Sheila Solomon Klass


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 This Drue Heinz Literature Prize finalist poignantly details a devout woman's flagrantly unorthodox response to the news that her only son is missing in action. More novella than novel, not just in length but preoccupation, this perfectly calibrated story is as much a memorable portrait of grief as a touching example of the infinitely varied ways the human heart responds to loss. On May 13, 1951, Mother's Day, Momma Greenfield leaves husband Sol and their Williamsburg apartment and heads for Coney Island. She's a devout Orthodox Jew who's always thought Coney Island a wicked and ungodly place, but now she goes there in search of someone who can tell her the truth. Her only son Ben is missing in action in Korea, and while Sol is resigned to their son's possible death, Momma is not. The misspelled sign GYPSY PRINCESS ZOE: ASTRALAGY READINGS in an encouragingly clean window entices her in, and, inside, the exotically dressed Zoe seems to know exactly why Momma is there. Comforted by Zoe's sympathetic response and amazing clairvoyance, she readily agrees to help the woman bring Ben back. Zoe is a superb con artist, and her stratagems, while easing Momma's pain, are expensive. Over a period of weeks she insists that Momma bring her thousands of dollars, a chicken, and a suit of new clothes so that the necessary rituals can be observed, and Momma, her grief assuaged by her faith in Zoe, and certain that Ben is coming home, happily complies. Meanwhile, Sol is worried by Momma's increasingly bizarre behavior and reactions--she refuses to mourn when they learn that Ben is indeed dead--but can do nothing. Only when Zoe is unmasked as a crook does Momma finally accept the truth that her son is gone and must be appropriately mourned. Klass (A Perpetual Surprise, 1991, etc.) delivers a moving story, though not quite big enough to fill out a novel's more expansive lineaments.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1997
ISBN: 0-930773-44-6
Page count: 223pp
Publisher: Black Heron
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997