Tragedy forces a cantankerous old man to reconnect with the world in this luminous fable.
David Harris, a retired grocer and unapologetically “dried-up old geezer,” wants nothing more than to spend his days sitting on the couch playing video football. Alas, his wife Emily insists on dragging him on errands. She is the heart and soul of their scruffy, multicultural Brooklyn neighborhood, knowing everyone and seeing everything, always prepared to search out a neighbor’s lost dog or reprove an obstreperous lout. (David’s public interactions consist mainly of grousing at people he thinks aren’t doing their jobs right, like the local pizza maker.) Emily has other eccentricities, including a conviction that everything happens for a reason, that one person’s truth may not be another’s, that wishes come true, even if they involve lottery tickets, that she is always right (a conceit David finds especially irritating because it is true). As annoyed as David gets with his wife, he’s also passionately in love with her, and when she collapses on the sidewalk with a heart attack the bottom falls out of his world. She’s revived by a Hindu shop owner who used to be a surgeon, but her doctors insist that she have a risky operation or face imminent death; in the “foul silence” of his suddenly empty apartment, David contemplates the prospect of an empty life. O’Neill crafts a wryly charming romance that spins itself out of the outwardly exasperated, inwardly tender screwball banter of its leads. It’s also a love letter to a big-hearted Brooklyn of neighborhood characters and immigrant strivers. And it’s a study of loss and grief that takes a swerve toward magical realism when David realizes that Emily’s networking skills are more impressive than he realized. Carried along by David’s sardonic, jaunty voice, the story doesn’t stray into mawkishness even as it registers trauma and sorrow.
A moving love story that handles deep emotions with a light touch.