In Wachtel’s (My Mother’s Shoes, 2011, etc.) novel, suffering crosses generations, from a teenager in anguished love to an enfeebled survivor of Auschwitz.
“During all events in our lives, both great and small, the moment always passes too swiftly. Something like a dream,” muses Joshua, one of the novel’s conflicted principal characters, as he reflects on past loss. Dreams and memories linger over events both great and small in the lives of two families in upstate New York. Joshua, the middle-aged single father to diffident Adam, is haunted by a moment that ended one life and began another. “I knew the dream had vanished the minute my son uttered his first cry,” he remembers. His father, David, “cries more than he speaks,” forever unable to escape the events of the Holocaust—both those that changed everything in an instant and those that made several years feel like “several lifetimes in the nether world.” In another household, tax attorney Virginia contends with one daughter, Meghan, about to leave for college and another, Christine, who is just past college age. The relationship between Christine, a tattooed sculptor with purple-streaked hair, and her mother is laden with grievances and misunderstanding. Christine manifests her torment through bodily harm, while her mother begins to see a young boy who may be an illusion, a dream himself. Wachtel’s novel is a poignant exploration of the struggles—whether unique, universal, historical or ephemeral, whether happenstance or deliberate—that ebb and flow throughout life. There is a practically visceral ache behind each character’s meditations. (That sensation is particularly harrowing in David’s recollections of his experiences during and just after the war, which shift events to Poland and Prague.) Yet in spite of it all, there is also a sense that, no matter how many dreams and illusions haunt us, life is a transient gift deserving of gratitude. “I’ve been suffering from a tear in the spirit, but still I am in perfect health,” Joshua says. His words reflect what the events around him make clear: Tears in the spirit mend, and being alive means persistent struggle and survival.
A touching study rich with introspection and finely crafted relationships.