The Law of Return

Maxine Rodburg, Author Carnegie-Mellon University Press $15.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-88748-313-4
Rodburg's razor-sharp perceptions and well-observed settings endow these stories about growing up in New Jersey in the '60s with remarkable authenticity. Eight interlinking narratives follow the Jewish Tarlow family--narrator Debbie, her older sister, Marlene, and their parents--as they move west to Short Hills away from the Central Ward where Vic, Debbie's father, owns a tavern. ""Keer Avenue, July 1967"" describes escalating racial tension as Vic protects his business from race riots and his authority from Marlene's teenage rebellion. Piercingly honest, Debbie observes how her Jewish family reacts to Christian schoolteachers, Orthodox classmates and Marlene's boyfriends, as well as how they deal with the threat of racial tumult and the mysteriously crooked pasts of Vic and his brothers. Rodburg's insights prove painfully acute in ""Pocahontas in Camelot,"" where such details as the Miss Rheingold contest, styles at a local dress shop, reverence for Jackie Kennedy and Debbie's school report on Pocahontas mesh, to poignantly reveal the '60s stereotype of the idealized woman. This splendid story features a family Thanksgiving, with potato salad from Tabatchnik's and the girls in taffeta dresses whose designer labels have been cut out in a futile effort to avoid their aunts' resentment. Unlike Newark-born Philip Roth, Rodburg creates no caricatures; Jewish neighbors and relatives are imperfect and intensely human, as in ""Concessions"" and ""Orphan,"" where Debbie tries to probe her father's secrets. The latest in Carnegie Mellon's Series in Short Fiction, these stories appeal to both head and heart; with stunning precision, Rodburg captures the fraught emotions and shifting identities in the links between city and suburb, family and society. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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