Swimming Toward the Ocean

Carole L. Glickfeld, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (400p) ISBN 978-0-375-40892-2
Set in Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan in the 1950s, Flannery O'Connor Award-winner Glickfield's (Useful Gifts, 1989) first novel employs a seductive narrative voice. The atmospheric story focuses on Chenia Arnow, a Russian-Jewish immigrant wife and mother whose emotional turmoil shapes the life of her unwanted but not unloved youngest daughter. Looking back from the vantage point of adulthood, Devorah reconstructs her mother's life, beginning with the 45-year-old Chenia's efforts to abort her third child or, failing that, commit suicide. Bright but unschooled, Chenia agrees with her philandering husband, Ruben, on only one thing: they cannot afford another baby. Chenia gives birth to Devorah despite fears and superstitions, raising her alongside Devorah's older siblings in Brighton Beach until Ruben moves them closer to his girlfriend in Manhattan. Although Ruben regularly lies, it is Chenia who collapses with guilt when four-year-old Devorah is accidentally injured during Chenia's quarrel with her shoe salesman lover. In anguish, Chenia briefly disappears, leaving precocious, outspoken Devorah in the care of New Jersey relatives. Spiritual insights and financial gifts from unexpected sources fortify the family as it rebuilds itself, and the tale heads toward a teary-eyed conclusion where two generations forgive each other's weaknesses and their own. Glickfield's prose is precise, poignant and painfully personal, and her tale touches many emotional hot buttonsDunfulfilled talent, repressed desire, self-defeating despairDwhile almost perfectly recreating the physical and psychological geography of the times. Obvious plot devices (a financial windfall, a new suitor, an old lover) move the narrative along, but it is feisty Chenia and perpetually curious Devorah who invest the novel with glorious life. (Feb. 21) Forecast: Having captured a time and place with perfection, Glickfeld's novel may resonate with many readers. Word of mouth will be a factor in its success.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-385-72176-9
Open Ebook - 262 pages - 978-0-307-42803-5
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