cover image WAR STORY


Gwen Edelman, . . Riverhead, $21.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-189-4

Grand and enduring themes play out on a deliberately limited stage in this slim, haunting first novel, the story of an ill-fated love affair between a naïve would-be writer and a celebrated, tormented playwright nearly twice her age. Ten years have passed since Kitty Jacobs and Joseph Kruger were lovers, but on the train bearing her to his funeral in Amsterdam, Kitty feels time collapse back into itself, and she begins to recall fragments of their life together with startling clarity and poignancy. They had met in a bookstore (though later Joseph would insist it was a bordello) when she was 32 and he was 60. Their instant attraction was consummated that same afternoon in the darkened hotel room where he lived as "a madman among madmen." As the well-mannered Kitty becomes increasingly captivated by the darkly magnetic, brilliant and libidinous Joseph, a story of love metamorphoses almost imperceptibly into a story of war: in the kitchen, eating bread and herring; in the claustrophobic bedroom, tangled in the sheets, Joseph tells Kitty of his WWII experiences—of his unlikely survival and his continued anguish. "Like some kind of beetle dragging three times its weight we all carry our pasts strapped on our backs," he tells her. If the novel makes an argument for love's inadequacy in the face of such personal and historical tragedy, it also suggests that memory can act as a kind of redemption. As Edelman weaves a narrative out of secondhand recollections, the quiet beauty of her prose strikes the same gorgeous, lonely note, again and again—a death knell for Joseph, and for Kitty, a chime marking the inexorable passage of time. (Aug.)

Forecast:Pre-publication buzz has been intense, with foreign rights sold in Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland and Italy. The response may be more muted on this side of the Atlantic, but a seductive cover should draw readers, as should the May/September subject matter.