cover image City of Laughter

City of Laughter

Temim Fruchter. Grove, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6128-4

Fruchter debuts with a wondrous intergenerational story of queerness and Jewish folklore. Shiva Margolin, 31 and reeling from her father’s recent death, wants to know more about her family, particularly her enigmatic maternal grandmother, Syl, and great-grandmother Mira. Both have long since died, and her mother, Hannah, refuses to talk about them. Shiva, frustrated and feeling stuck in her New York City life and abandoned by her girlfriend, Dani, starts studying the work of Jewish folklorist S. Ansky. Her interest leads her to enroll in a master’s program, and she applies for a grant to visit Warsaw, which is only a few hours away from Mira’s small town of Ropshitz, where Shiva plans to visit. Back in the U.S., a lonely Hannah tries to adjust to widowhood and begins reckoning with the impact of Syl’s anxious parenting (which included constant superstitious warnings about leaving the water on or looking at mirrors and hours spent writing in notebooks Hannah was never allowed to open) and how it affected her own relationship with Shiva. As Shiva and Hannah dive into their family’s past, they’re each drawn to the same alluring, green-eyed stranger. Chapters from the point of view of the stranger, whom Shiva encounters via a dating app, present the character as an ageless and androgynous folkloric figure who also made contact with Syl and Mira when they were alive. Fruchter draws on folk tales both real and imagined to create a tender and unforgettable portrait of Jewish culture, faith, and community. This dazzling and hopeful novel is not to be missed. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary Management. (Jan.)