cover image Good on Paper

Good on Paper

Rachel Cantor. Melville House (Random, dist.), $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61219-470-7

Shira Greene is working as an office temp and living with her daughter, Andi, and Ahmad, her best friend, when she gets a life-changing telegram: Romei, the mysterious winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wants her to translate his latest, a work of poetry and prose based on Dante’s La Vita Nuova (literally “new life”), the same work that Shira was translating when she abandoned her Ph.D. At first, Shira thinks that someone is playing a joke, but she’s happy to have a second chance at her career; she even begins to imagine love with the eccentric part-time rabbi and owner of the neighborhood bookstore that publishes Gilgul, the literary journal where one of Rachel’s stories caught Romei’s eye. Cantor’s follow-up to 2014’s A Highly Unlikely Scenario (which PW starred) starts light and shimmers with humorous touches, but as Romei’s faxed pages begin arriving, Shira panics, fearing the work is not only untranslatable but designed to break her. Translation is a metaphor through which Cantor uses her considerable powers with language to refract larger questions about family bonds, storytelling, and letting go of fantasies of new life and waking up to the life that is yours. (Jan.)