cover image Animals Waltz

Animals Waltz

Cary Fagan. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-312-13921-6

In this remarkably assured first novel, which won the 1994 Jewish Book Award for fiction, Toronto Globe and Mail poetry critic Fagan (author of two story collections) proves himself a wonderful writer with a rare comic gift. At age 31, college dropout Sheila Hersh leads a schizoid existence. By day, as advertising copywriter in her father's Toronto store, Hersh's House of Mattresses, she is the dutiful Jewish daughter. At night, she frequents a trendy club-hopping scene; she has even acted nude in an avant-garde film, though she now wants to halt its premiere. Sheila has other worries as well: the store is losing money, her father has irrational, violent outbursts and his new lady friend may be a gold digger. Then Sheila becomes obsessed with one of her deceased mother's possessions-a book of poems by one Charlotte Reissmann, an obscure Jewish Viennese pianist who, in 1938, at age 23, drowned in a canal. Sheila translates Charlotte's intense lyrics, full of dark foreboding, from the German (these ``translations,'' which preface each chapter, are stunning), but to unlock the mystery of Charlotte's death-and to come to terms with her own mother's death-she and her father set off for Vienna. This latter portion of the narrative is a letdown, featuring too many neat coincidences as father and daughter each find new love. Even so, this engaging and haunting novel will make readers laugh and cry. (Jan.)