John Luiz's Reviews > The Book of Life

The Book of Life by Stuart Nadler
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Feb 18, 12

Read from February 14 to 18, 2012

This is an absolutely fabulous collection of stories. In my view, it's the best kind of writing because there aren't any writerly tricks to keep you conscious of the fact that you're watching a writer at work. Here you get so absorbed by the characters and the situations they're caught up in that you forget you're reading fiction. Almost all of the characters have romantic complications - marriages that don't quite work, and infidelity is a problem that keeps getting examined from a variety of angles. There are a lot of parental relationships examined, too, particularly ones that left so many scars that the son and parents didn't see each other or speak for years. Many of the characters are Jewish, but most are secular ones and there aren't a lot of heavy religious themes, other than the basic one of how it's possible to believe or not. If you enjoy straightforward, compelling characters, great dialogue, and thought-provoking premises, I think you'll find this collection thoroughly worth your while.

The 7 stories, most of which are set in New York or Massachusetts, are:

1. In the Book of Life - 22 pp -- A great story right out of the chute about a man who begins an affair with the daughter of his boyhood friend and business partner, an entanglement that sets off a host of unexpected discoveries and complications.

2. Winter on the Sawtooth - 18 pp - A father is embarrassed when his son makes his first trip home from college and has to discover the shambles his parents' marriage is in. The husband and wife still share the same house, but the wife has taken on a new lover whom she sleeps with in the same house she shares with her husband. But the son's return could change the entire dynamic.

3. The Moon Landing -- 27 pp -- Two estranged brothers have to come together to clear out their parents' house after they both die within one days of each other. Searching through their clothes, they're reminded of how their childhood was shaped by their parents' constant drinking.

4. Catherine and Henry - 28 pp -- A young woman gets convinced by a cynical older fiend to test her boyfriend's faithfulness by hiring a woman to seduce him. The inevitable happens but because they both love each other the "test" presents unexpected turns for both of them.

5. Our Portion, Our Rock - 29 pp -- A young lawyer, who's not happy with his job, has to deal with a dying father who's crippled with Lou Gehrig's disease and his own foolish attempt to consummate his long-time crush on a law school classmate, who went on to marry his best friend.

6. Visiting - 16 pp -- A divorced father tries to make a connection with his 16-year-old son by driving him, on one of the rare weekends he spends with him, from Manhattan to the home of his dying father in Rhode Island. It's a compelling portrait of the "sandwich" generation, estranged from his sarcastic child and his cruel father. But in the end, there's a compelling look at how those generational gaps and estrangements can be bridged, if only in a minor way.

7. Beyond Any Blessing - 34 pp -- A grandson goes back to Boston to find out why his grandfather, a 90-year-old rabbi, has been fired by his temple board and evicted from his home. The grandson, Daniel, isn't much help in rectifying the situation, but the trip home gives him an opportunity to revisit his past (his grandfather raised him after his parents were killed in a car accident) and an old flame, for whom he still carries a torch for even though he's married to someone else. The grandfather was in his 70s when he had to take over raising this boy, but it's clear that, while their relationship wasn't always easy, there was a strong bond that the grandson is only now beginning to fully understand and appreciate.
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