Girls

Helen Yglesias, Author Delphinium Books $19 (192p) ISBN 978-1-883285-16-6
In such works as her classic novel of family interaction, How She Died, and her graphic depiction of working-class families in Sweetsir, Yglesias has never pulled her punches, writing with unsparing candor about the ways people in intimate relationships can hurt each other. She does so again in this little book, which describes, with unconstrained frankness and gallows humor, the pitiable conditions afflicting those in the anteroom of death. Narrator Jenny Witkovsky (aka Jane Witter, the name she uses as writer, critic, professor and lecturer) is even at 80 the ""baby"" of the four Witkovsky sisters. Two of the siblings are slowly dying, and Jenny comes to Miami Beach to help ease their last days. Eva, the eldest, is 95, and quietly failing. Naomi, at 90, is riddled with cancer. In recent years, they have depended on the third sister, 85-year-old Flora, a flamboyant geriatric sexpot who egotistically manipulates her siblings' lives. Now Jenny's arrival causes combustion. Yglesias eschews plot in favor of character portrayals, sketchily delineating the sisters' upbringing as the offspring of Jewish immigrants, and filling in their numerous marriages and lovers, careers and children, and the origins of their sibling rivalry. Meanwhile, she presents a social and cultural travelogue of Miami Beach's various districts and neighborhoods--sweeping from the gaudy vulgarity of opulent hotels to down-at-the-heels elderly residences and nursing homes; capturing the Jewish population's prejudices against Cubans and Haitians, and vice versa; and drawing, without a veil of tact, an accurate picture of the geriatric community, most of whom are torn between the will to live and the wish to get dying over with. Detailed descriptions of the outfits each sister wears daily are intended as an indication of character but become jarringly intrusive in so slight a story. Yet some things are eerily accurate: the Yiddish-flavored, go-for-the-jugular dialogue; the ubiquity of infirm bodies using wheelchairs and walkers, the loud chatter of Spanish on buses and other public conveyances. And when, after a series of confrontations, recriminations, tears and reconciliations, the sisters finally agree on terminal care, they are all clear-eyed about the ""unspeakable reality"" of death. The audience for this book is anyone who is watching people they love grow old. Agents, Frances Goldin and Sydelle Kramer. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-345-44112-6
Ebook - 192 pages - 978-1-4532-5581-0
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