As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner (Review by Jennifer Boksman)
1 min read
This is a story about a Jewish family in the 40’s. This family has traditions, dreams and expectations. Projected dreams, “but such is the way of family: we are what they tell us we are, and a part of life’s great struggle, it always seemed to me, is to know oneself despite that imposing collective definition.” These are Molly’s thoughts as an adult reminiscing about her childhood.
The Leibritsky’s are a devout Jewish, extended family. They run the family department store together, they observe the holidays together, they pray together and they vacation every summer at the family cottage. It is 1948 and it starts off as a spectacular summer. The kids hang on the beach, they read, they sail. The women keep the cottage nice, swim together, freedom is the key during the weekdays. Come Friday they prepare for the arrival of the men for the Sabbath meal and the weekend. Weekends are different on Bagel beach with the men around. Dynamics change.
The summer’s freedom and wild abandonment of the usual responsibilities is shattered when an accident occurs while the children are under the watch of the women during a weekday. The summer of hope and fun turns into a lifetime of atonement for members of this tight family. Everyone feels responsible in some way and the guilt drives all of them down different paths trying to overcome their grief.
This is a terrific story. Elizabeth captures the era and the roles of men and women at that time perfectly. She writes this novel with care. You will feel for all of the characters and perhaps catch yourself thinking “oh don’t do that”. A great summer read!