Mrs. Ted Bliss

Stanley Elkin, Author Hyperion Books $22.45 (291p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6104-0
The title of Elkin's latest could not be more apt: it refers to the book's main character and, with a minimum of fuss, connotes a good deal of the woman's identity, self-image and history. Dorothy Bliss, a Russian-born Jew whose mother bribed an immigration official to add three years to young Dorothy's age so she could get work on Manhattan's Lower East Side, married the butcher Ted Bliss and lived a full life in Chicago: ``She was a mother, she and Ted had married a daughter, bar mitzvahed two sons, buried one of them.'' And now she has buried a husband. When the book opens, Ted has died of cancer after their retirement to Miami, and thus begins the last stages of Mrs. Ted Bliss's life on earth, a lonely but spirited, comic existence in a condominium overlooking Biscayne Bay. Elkin (George Mills) is at his best here, blessed with the gift of one-liner insight and a definite, if reluctantly exercised, ability to tug on a reader's heartstrings. His Dorothy Bliss is an unreflective woman wholly mundane in her ways, and therefore an outrageous subject for a novel: she likes cards, food--``Supper, coffee, dessert. Cooking.''--and television. ``What she remembered of being a kid,'' observes the narrator, ``was what she remembered of being an adult: her family.'' And the family is as ordinary as they come, replete with the kind of dramas that fill lives commonly enough, but seldom live in books. If T.S. Eliot saw a modern alienation being measured out in coffee spoons, Elkin's Mrs. Ted Bliss measures hers out in perceived slights and jai alai tickets. This is not to say there is not at least the threat of exoticism in Dorothy's waning years--her condo neighbors are a colorful lot, including some shady South American gents. But as they age, they seem as defanged as Dorothy is resigned to the dimming light of her world. In the end, it is the trenchant quips about the way of all flesh, and memory, that will give Dorothy Bliss a life after death: ``The same thing that gives us wisdom gives us plaque,'' she observes. Countless retirees in America--Jewish and otherwise--will recognize themselves and people they know in Dorothy Bliss. But finding her in a novel--Who would have thought? 1500 signed copies of limited edition as ABA giveaways; author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/1995
Release date: 09/01/1995
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-0-380-72896-1
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-1-56478-322-6
Paperback - 414 pages - 978-1-56895-314-4
Ebook - 294 pages - 978-1-4532-0422-1
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