cover image A Reason to See You Again

A Reason to See You Again

Jami Attenberg. Ecco, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-303984-1

Attenberg (The Middlesteins) chronicles the lives of the dysfunctional Cohen family over four decades in her nuanced latest. The opening scene, set in 1971 Chicago during a game of Scrabble, delineates their fraught dynamics. Frieda, the mother, sneaks away to take shots of Slivovitz, then berates her 16-year-old daughter, Nancy, for playing a three-letter word (“That’s all you have to show me”?). Her husband, Rudy, a gay Holocaust survivor and loving father to Nancy and their brainiac younger daughter, Shelly, wonders if the couple made the right decision to be together. After Rudy dies the next year from heart failure, Frieda grows more critical of the girls, prompting Nancy a few years later to move in with her college boyfriend, Robby, with whom she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and Shelly to accept a scholarship to UC Berkeley. In the late 1980s and ’90s, Nancy and Robby’s daughter, Jess, becomes enamored with Shelly, an innovator in cell phone technology, while Frieda lives in Florida and works in elder care. Attenberg brings the disparate threads together as Frieda falls ill in the 2000s and the sisters must decide whether they’ll care for her. There isn’t much of a plot, but the novel is carried along by deliciously realistic descriptions of the Cohens’ complex relationships. It’s an admirable portait of a distinctly unhappy family. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown Ltd. (Sept.)