cover image Love and Shame and Love

Love and Shame and Love

Peter Orner. Little, Brown, $24.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-12939-8

Vibrant and captivating, this novel about three generations of the Popper family of Chicago resonates with truths about human nature. Orner has a unique ability to create dramatic momentum from a series of punchy vignettes. We meet the central character, Alexander Popper in 1984, when he is 13, and the novel chronicles events in his life even as it looks backward at the marriages and domestic contretemps of his grandparents and parents. Seen against the casual corruption of Chicago politics and historical events in the country at large, the narrative is an acutely observed sociological picture of Jewish middle-class families from the 1930s through the 1970s. Popper’s paternal grandparents endure an unhappy marriage but maintain social pretenses. His parents’ marriage founders when his father, too old to be drafted at 39, enlists in WWII “to get out of the house” (his wartime letters are interspersed). Popper himself finds the woman he loves at the University of Michigan, but their union undergoes a typically contemporary twist. Orner’s (Esther Stories) surefooted control of his narrative gradually discloses information that conveys emotional and physical atmosphere. As the Poppers move into better neighborhoods, subheads with the family’s changing addresses identify time and place and cultural milieu. Two themes—sometimes comic, often rueful—intersect throughout: the secret shames, frustrations, and humiliations that each character endures, and the search for love that blossoms and then fails in each generation. A richly layered, intimate picture of a distinctive but also typical family enduring life’s vicissitudes and stoically carrying on. Line drawings by Eric Orner, the author’s brother. (Nov. 7)