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"The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This quote was brought to mind by the final steamroller of a story, "Retrospective," in this wonderful collection of thought-provoking stories. I appreciated all but one of the 7 other stories, which revolve mostly around Jews in World War II Europe, communists and the red scare during the McCarthy era, and Israel. I cannot begin to discuss all of the stories here, so I'll just hit some of my high points.
While the stories involve so many relationships and emotions, the common thread seemed to be the character’s revelation of self through loneliness, including: an elderly widower, remarried late and wanting to belong to an old world culture (or a religion); an Israeli soldier’s need for his amputee brother’s love and to be an important part of his small family contrasted with his selfish feelings for the bro’s girl and his guilt from what is on track to be much more; loneliness borne of fear and resentment that comes from being a 13-year-old Jewish girl escaping through sewers and living hungry and in hiding during the coldest winter ever; isolation from a daughter and loss of status in the world; a daughter’s loneliness from normal society outside the narrow world of her father, a communist party leader in the U.S. during the Eisenhower years, and her eagerness to do anything to escape; and, a man’s loneliness from the loss of his relationship with his wife and 10-year-old son caused by his selfishness and ego.
In “Retrospective,” which I consider the best short story I’ve read in many years, Ms. Antopol quilts the mind with a vivid landscape over which the reader thinks she/he knows the way. [[Seen a lot of this before, know where we’re headed. Turbulence, but set her on cruise control; ahh ..., four more to go, take foot off gas and coast; two more, put right foot easily on brake, and ..... WHAM!]]
And yet, this was no contrived shock ending. I wish I could do justice to the author's work by adequately describing my jumbled and racing thought and how the final scene was so well-laid that it rendered my heart heavy and left me feeling so alone that my only remedy seemed to be my eternal consciousness and my faith. I recovered, but that is one that stays around in your head for a while.
I plan to purchase the print version because I’d like to read a few of these again and mine them for the gold I know is there.
Ms. Van Dyck’s talented narration enhanced these stories as an experience–in sound as well as in sight and mind.
I highly recommend this book.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Molly Antopol is a wonderful first-time author with a clarity of expression and insight into human behavior that is astonishing. Time and again I was surprised by the unusual degree of self-awareness shown by her characters. This collection of stories mostly take place between about 1943-1953, long before she was born. Their locale varies from San Francisco to Jerusalem to Belarus. Although her themes surround WWII and its aftermath, especially for Jews, the stories encompass universal issues. The title refers obliquely to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, whose activities in the late 1940's resulted in the creation of Hollywood blacklists of professionals in the movie industry and the jailing of 10 men. One of her stories deals directly with the personal consequences of this tragedy.
Jennifer van Dyck's reading is good, but she makes no attempt to speak in character or to use different voices. It took me a little while to get used to men speaking in a female voice, and her range of emotion is limited. The strength of the writing comes through anyway. For those of you expecting more from a narrator, I encourage you to read the book instead since the narration adds little.
Finishing the book, I wanted to know more about this author. She wrote an interesting commentary on her namesake village, Antopol, in the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog (Jan. 29, 2014). There are interviews with her in "The Times of Israel" (Feb. 15, 2014) and The Rumpus (Feb. 17, 2014). She divides her time between San Francisco and Israel, when she isn't traveling elsewhere. I look forward to reading her first full-length novel.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful