cover image Pain


Zeruya Shalev, trans. from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. Other, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-59051-092-6

Shalev’s exhausting fifth novel (after Love Life) rides “waves of pain... drawing the map” of the lives of Iris, survivor of a Jerusalem bomb attack, and her damaged family. Confronting the return of pain from her old injuries, which coincides with the return of her childhood sweetheart Eitan, Iris, a dedicated school principal, must decide whether the life she has built since Eitan left her decades earlier is worth salvaging. Her husband, Mickie, who is obsessed with online chess, annoys her. Her son, Omer, though a handful as a child, no longer needs her. And her daughter, Alma, apparently caught up in the orbit of an exploitative guru, has moved to Tel Aviv. Charting Iris’s foray into infidelity and chronicling the increasing danger of Alma’s situation, the author heaps her characters’ grievances onto a pyre of discontent, until the story collapses into a tedious litany of physical, mental, and emotional suffering. Too earnest in her descriptions of love rediscovered, and drowning Iris in torment, Shalev sabotages her sometimes fine writing by long-winded, explanatory preaching. A pristine observation—“She was wrong, those weren’t nuts in her mouth, they were ice cubes”—is marred, for instance, by the paragraph of explanation that follows, exemplifying an overall fault of the book. This relentless exposé of affliction in all its iterations is undone by its lack of trust in its readers. [em](Nov.) [/em]