She’s become dislocated while standing in place.
That’s a fantastic line for this character driven novel, for family in fact. What is more dizzying than a gathering of your clan, particularly as it continues to grow? How can you not feel dislocated standing in place, and who can blame sweet Aunt Gladdy with one foot in the past and one in the present? Of course she slips in and out of time, gets confused by the faces and happenings, it’s a full life she’s been having. She and little Pim are my absolute favorite characters in this family novel. Pim lives in his own little world, battling unseen enemies in the buff, oblivious to the drama of the grown ups. Actually, he and Gladdy share similarities, youth and old age are so tightly intertwined (one coming as the other is slowly leaving), one battling imaginary foes as the other deals with ghosts of memories.
Walter and Bennie Blumenthal’s daughter (eldest of four children) Clementine, is marrying her college girlfriend, Diggs. But this is a special sort of wedding, a performance of sorts. Like all things meant to go against tradition with the best of intentions it can get out of hand. There will be an invasion, the Blumenthal’s are meant to accommodate nine extra people in a house already full with six family members. The real intruders to Walter’s thinking are the ultra-Orthodox Jews, going around town asking the locals to sell, trying to tip the demographics in their favor where they are sure to infiltrate all that has been, destroying entire communities. Bennie and Walter have two big secrets, one that may upset the ‘status quo’, help the very people he is against. If he and Bennie sell, they will be party to the ruin of this special community. Even Clem, as liberated as she is assumes so much about bride to be Diggs, based on her ethnicity. Aunt Gladdy is in the past, remembering fire, after-all her skin is marred, a constant reminder of an earlier tragedy. There is a constant struggle with old versus new, in a sense. Loss, tragedy and change. Even open to accepting the ever changing world, there are fears that sway our decision making as a family, and as a community. Lloyd is the ‘prodigal one’, and has a great conversation with Tom about loyalty and what we owe our families and ourselves as he struggles with Walter’s distrust of the Haredi, and I can’t think of a more perfect example of the inner struggles children face in life. Parents raise their children to think for themselves and then feel betrayed when they might have a different opinion or view. Sometimes just in examining how they feel about a situation can force us to see our own blind loyalty to old, or outdated versions of truth. Family dynamics are always at play when you’re under the same dwelling for any amount of time. It’s hinted at in moments “What? What’s going on?” there’s a note of jealousy in her voice, a hint of the old kid sister don’t-leave-me-out petulance, when Carrie senses the tension while Bennie and Walter fight about the Haredi.
Then there is that mouse, that poor little mouse whose just going about living among the humans, whom she scavenges from. The animal just trucks on, starts over when everything falls apart, a new generation when the one before is destroyed.
Gladdy is overlooked by her family, as the aging so often are even if they are beloved, and yet if anyone has understood change and how deeply a turn of a moment can bite, it’s her. She is the wisest of them all, Clem’s too young to hear the truth (How could one so young be expected to understand?), that the world itself is no more than temporary. It is a novel about change, because whether we accept it or not, change comes.
For me, the title is interesting because family can sometimes feel like strangers too. Eventually, everything can start to feel unfamiliar as the old ways die off, the hardest of all is letting go of truth as we have known it to be and allowing the next generation to flourish. A story of constant upheaval, strange and interesting relatives, secrets, births, deaths, tragedies, intruders and how we live on in scraps of memories until there is no one left to remember.
Published May 14, 2019 Available Now