Being Esther

Miriam Karmel. Milkweed (PGW, dist.), $22 (187p) ISBN 978-1-57131-096-5
The heroine of Karmel’s meandering debut novel is Esther Lustig, an 85-year-old widow who has led a quiet, middle-class Jewish life in the Chicago suburbs. Confronting the inevitability of death and the gradual diminishment of her faculties, Esther rummages through the past—from her marriage to an overbearing man, to her difficult relationship with her daughter, to thoughts (and even, a little more than thoughts) of romance with other men. Increasingly alone as her friends die or fade away, Esther regrets a life led without risk, and struggles to stay independent when her children try to put her in a home. The narrative progresses through loosely tied vignettes of the past and present, which dwell on the muted struggles and triumphs confronting an elderly woman whose life is defined by her ordinariness and quiet dignity. With its too-easy melancholy, the unremarkable plot is unfortunately matched by flavorless prose, and in the end, little insight is gained into Esther. The novel has graceful moments that aspire to the heights of Grace Paley or Alice Munro, but the overall effect is forgettable. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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FORMATS
Paperback - 187 pages - 978-1-57131-105-4
Hardcover - 201 pages - 978-1-57131-874-9
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