A Town of Empty Rooms

Karen E. Bender. Counterpoint, $25 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61902-069-6
After a dramatic and expensive breakdown in the wake of her father’s death, Serena, the middle-aged mother of two at the center of Bender’s new novel (after Like Normal People), finds it impossible to find work in New York City. Eager for a new start, she and her husband, Dan, “encased in ice” since his brother’s death, move to the only town where he can find a job: Waring, N.C. Desperate for direction in life outside of her foundering marriage, Serena falls in with the local Jewish community under the spell of a charismatic though mercurial rabbi whose complex personality threatens to rend the congregation. Dan, meanwhile, pursues another path to social acceptance by enrolling their son in the local Boy Scouts. As Dan and Serena cope with their sinister neighbor Forrest, as well as with simmering anti-Semitism, they attempt to salvage their marriage and forge a new life in diminished circumstances. While Bender’s social consciousness is at times allowed to take over, she’s a keen observer of marriage and the psychological bonds that tie mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. The novel excels in stirring the reader’s sympathy and outrage, even if a tendency toward poetic justice tends to weaken the effect. Bender’s first novel in more than 10 years offers an absorbing and often touching look at the struggles of an urban middle-class family to adjust to an unfamiliar America—rural, provincial, and homogenous. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 305 pages - 978-1-61902-145-7
Paperback - 291 pages - 978-1-61902-274-4
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