Two writers cautiously inch toward love in this Israeli university teacher’s sluggish first novel, following the collection Housebroken (2001).
Yonatan Luria, 45, lives in Tel Aviv with his ten-year-old daughter Dana. His wife Ilana died five years before in a car accident. Since then Yonatan has written only a few pages, though he has a reputation based on two earlier novels about love. Money’s not a problem; Ilana’s rich American parents continue to send regular checks. Yonatan’s eventual partner, 36-year-old Shira Klein, saw her first novel top the bestseller list, but that was three years ago. She too has writer’s block. Shira is unmarried, though she has had affairs. She doesn’t make things easy for herself; if men are either “very smart or not enough,” out come her claws. Yonatan, who considers himself an excellent lover, has been celibate for years, though women are always hitting on him. These two difficult people, lonely, restless and self-hating, meet over dinner at a mutual friend’s house. He wants me, he wants me not, muses Shira. She wants me, she wants me not, muses Yonatan. Just do it, begs the reader, but their first kiss will not come until past the halfway point, and it will be another 100 pages before a joint declaration of love. Meanwhile, Dana is experiencing preadolescent anxieties, and Shira’s retired father Max is slowly dying. Hedaya provides context through glimpses of Tel Aviv life, but she does not have the alchemy to invest the mundane with significance. Towards the end, as Yonatan begins teaching in Jerusalem, attention shifts to Shira’s vigil for Max. That’s unfortunate, for the love relationship could use closer examination after Yonatan’s university gig exposes him as a supreme narcissist, thrilled that his students are more interested in him than in Faulkner, his ostensible subject.
A superficial, verbose account of a problematic relationship.