In this rich and absorbing collection of linked stories, Maxine Rodburg's narrator looks back at her family, their formative years in Newark and later.... Rodburg's purpose is, as she says, to find those whole lost worlds that we keep in our hearts. This is lovely writing, a wise voice nonetheless filled with yearning, a wonderful cast, a passionate sense of loss, and renewal, a stunning American portrait.
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A replete and vivid portrayal of urban Jewish family life emerges from this satisfying debut collection of eight interrelated storiesa book similar to, and perhaps influenced by, Allegra Goodmans Total Immersion (1989) and The Family Markowitz (1996). Each story is narrated by Debbie Tarlow, whom we first meet in the late 1960s, when her fathers downtown Newark tavern and their family's fragile peace of mind are threatened by both her globe-trotting older sister Marlene's insouciance and the racial riots that decimate the city. This theme resurfaces in the more dreamily reminiscent ``Keer Avenue, July 1967,'' and is ironically echoed in several pieces set during various other times and at parallel crisis-points in Debbie's girlhood and later life as a concerned (often frightened) mother of her own two daughters. ``March of Dimes,'' for example, neatly links the lingering polio scare of the early 60s with Debbie's first real understanding of her culture's own racial and ethnic prejudices. Varieties of awakening to the often contradictory intricacies of religious and social norms are explored with increasingly resonant emphasis in the complex ``Pocahontas in Camelot'' (Debbie's school play about the Indian heroine is juxtaposed to her family's reactions to the 1963 Kennedy assassination and to the shvartzers troubling Newark's middle-class calm); ``The Widower Vissarion,'' which confronts Debbie directly with anti-Semitism but also with her gentle peacemaking mother's urging that ``outsiders could do nothing worse than people could do to themselves''; and especially ``The Orphan,'' which concludes with the mature Debbie's moving valediction at the Miami Beach funeral of her father, an orphan laid to rest, his years of wandering finally at an end. Richly textured, subtly understated: a fine first collection that has both the emotional weight of remembrance and the unity of a well-made novel. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Rodburg's razor-sharp perceptions and well-observed settings endow these stories about growing up in New Jersey in the '60s with remarkable authenticity. Eight interlinking narratives follow the Jewish Tarlow familyAnarrator Debbie, her older sister, Marlene, and their parentsAas they move west to Short Hills away from the Central Ward where Vic, Debbie's father, owns a tavern. "Keer Avenue, July 1967" describes escalating racial tension as Vic protects his business from race riots and his authority from Marlene's teenage rebellion. Piercingly honest, Debbie observes how her Jewish family reacts to Christian schoolteachers, Orthodox classmates and Marlene's boyfriends, as well as how they deal with the threat of racial tumult and the mysteriously crooked pasts of Vic and his brothers. Rodburg's insights prove painfully acute in "Pocahontas in Camelot," where such details as the Miss Rheingold contest, styles at a local dress shop, reverence for Jackie Kennedy and Debbie's school report on Pocahontas mesh, to poignantly reveal the '60s stereotype of the idealized woman. This splendid story features a family Thanksgiving, with potato salad from Tabatchnik's and the girls in taffeta dresses whose designer labels have been cut out in a futile effort to avoid their aunts' resentment. Unlike Newark-born Philip Roth, Rodburg creates no caricatures; Jewish neighbors and relatives are imperfect and intensely human, as in "Concessions" and "Orphan," where Debbie tries to probe her father's secrets. The latest in Carnegie Mellon's Series in Short Fiction, these stories appeal to both head and heart; with stunning precision, Rodburg captures the fraught emotions and shifting identities in the links between city and suburb, family and society. (Oct.)
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