A middle-aged woman confronts her first love.
As a teenager, Iris meets the love of her life: Eitan, a thin, gangly boy caring for his sick mother. They plan to get married, but after Eitan’s mother dies, he tells Iris he can’t see her anymore—she reminds him too much of his grief. Thirty years later, Iris is married, with two children, and principal of a rigorous Jerusalem school. She is 10 years past a terrible injury sustained when a suicide bomber blew up a bus, but she is still haunted by pain. Iris’ relationship with her husband, Mickey, is tepid, and her feelings for her children are clouded by disappointment: They aren’t the children she’d have had with Eitan, after all. Then, unexpectedly, Iris runs into Eitan, and all the passion her life has been lacking rushes back. Shalev’s (The Remains of Love, 2013, etc.) latest novel to appear in English is primarily concerned with the nature of that passion. Should Iris go back to Eitan, or should she stick with the life she’s built? While she’s trying to decide, that life seems to be splintering: Any day now, her son is due to be drafted, and her daughter seems to have fallen under the sway of a charismatic, cultlike leader. Shalev’s depiction of Iris’ tortured, conflicting thoughts is convincing, if claustrophobic. We’re stuck in Iris’ mind for the duration of the novel, and the result can feel somewhat stifling. Then, too, since the novel begins at a high pitch, as it goes higher and higher, the prose starts to feel hyperbolic.
Shalev is a vivid and impassioned writer, but her latest novel, by its end, seems both airless and overheated.