As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel

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9780316384148: As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel
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An Amazon Best Book of the Year

A multigenerational family saga about the long-lasting reverberations of one tragic summer by "a wonderful talent [who] should be read widely" (Edward P. Jones).

In 1948, a small stretch of the Woodmont, Connecticut shoreline, affectionately named "Bagel Beach," has long been a summer destination for Jewish families. Here sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec assemble at their beloved family cottage, with children in tow and weekend-only husbands who arrive each Friday in time for the Sabbath meal.

During the weekdays, freedom reigns. Ada, the family beauty, relaxes and grows more playful, unimpeded by her rule-driven, religious husband. Vivie, once terribly wronged by her sister, is now the family diplomat and an increasingly inventive chef. Unmarried Bec finds herself forced to choose between the family-centric life she's always known and a passion-filled life with the married man with whom she's had a secret years-long affair.

But when a terrible accident occurs on the sisters' watch, a summer of hope and self-discovery transforms into a lifetime of atonement and loss for members of this close-knit clan. Seen through the eyes of Molly, who was twelve years old when she witnessed the accident, this is the story of a tragedy and its aftermath, of expanding lives painfully collapsed. Can Molly, decades after the event, draw from her aunt Bec's hard-won wisdom and free herself from the burden that destroyed so many others?

Elizabeth Poliner is a masterful storyteller, a brilliant observer of human nature, and in As Close to Us as Breathing she has created an unforgettable meditation on grief, guilt, and the boundaries of identity and love.

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Review:

An Amazon Best Book of March 2016: Reviewers of this wonderful, moving novel will surely compare it to the works of Allegra Goodman, whose Kaaterskill Falls, in particular, introduced many readers to the world of ultra-observant Jewish families, their traditions and their guarded relationship with the secular, non- Jewish society. And this book does follow some of the same themes. But as I read it (in two obsessive sessions--remember binge-reading?), the book it more readily brought to mind was To Kill a Mockingbird. Like the late Harper Lee’s masterpiece, As Close To Us as Breathing, revolves around the events of one summer, is told from the point of view of a pre-adolescent girl, and shows how a single terrible event forever changes her, her family and her community. “The summer of 1948 my brother Davy was killed in an accident,” 12 year old Molly says on page 1-- and so I was hooked. Yes, of course, I wanted to know the hows and whens and wheres of what happened to this little boy, whom we come to know as a beloved annoyance to his siblings--they actually call him “squirt” sometimes. But what held my attention as much as the wondering about Davy was the unfurling of the back story of this matriarchal family. Set on a strip of Connecticut beach that welcomed Jews at a time when most did not--it was affectionately known as Bagel Beach--Davy’s mother and her two adult sisters share a cottage with their children for the summer. (The men, involved in a family business in New Haven, only come on weekends.) And what wonderful, proud, competitive, loving and demanding women these sisters are! One of them is married to another’s old boyfriend, one is having a love affair with a goy (non-Jew), all are trying to preserve their traditions and still live their lives. Occasionally, readers may be confused about exactly what is happening when--Molly is narrating as a modern adult, the story goes back and forth over several decades-- but that’s a minor quibble in a novel this layered and deep. As Close to Us as Breathing is full of characters who are at once typical and original and whose story of faith, guilt and family is timeless. --Sara Nelson

About the Author:

Elizabeth Poliner is the author of Mutual Life & Casualty, a novel-in-stories, and the forthcoming collection of poems, What You Know in Your Hands. Her stories and poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals. A recipient of seven individual artist grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, she has also been awarded fiction scholarships to the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers' conferences. She teaches creative writing at Hollins University.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780316384131: As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel

Featured Edition

ISBN 10: 0316384135 ISBN 13: 9780316384131
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux / Back Bay Books, 2016
Softcover

9781410490773: As Close To Us As Breathing (Thorndike Press Large Print Reviewers' Choice)

Thornd..., 2016
Hardcover

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