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The Sisters Weiss

The Sisters Weiss
Naomi Ragen

In a very conservative Jewish family, sisters Rose and Pearl grew up close in age and close to one another. Like all sisters, tho, they also envied one another. When Rose, as a young teenager, brought home a book of photographs, Pearl reported her to their parents- with severe consequences.
Rose was sent to live with her grandmother and attend and even more conservative religious school. Instead of reforming her behavior, she took the opportunity to do more forbidden things- even enrolling in a college photography class. Rose’s family made one more attempt to keep her from straying, by arranging a marriage for her. Rose accepted it- until a few days before the wedding,  when her groom told her she would have to give up her beloved photography.
Torn between family and tradition on one hand, and freedom and art on the other, what could Rose do?

The Sisters Weiss jumps forward forty years at this point, for the second half of the book. Both sisters now have daughters of their own- and haven’t spoken to each other in years. Its impossible to summarize without a spoiler for the first half, so I’m just going to leave it there. Except to say that the tension between faith and freedom repeats itself for younger generations.

I have read and enjoyed many of Ragen’s other books. This one, however, struck a surprisingly personal note with me. I also grew up in a very conservative religious family- altho not Jewish, and not as strict as the fictional Weiss family. I can very much relate to the struggles Rose and Pearl face- trying to find their place in both their faith and the world.
In The Sisters Weiss, Ragen has written an interesting story. She has also addresses complicated, real-life issues with understanding and grace.
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You might like (both non-fiction): Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent

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After I’m Gone

After I’m Gone
Laura Lippman

When local big shot and bookie Felix Brewer skipped bail and disappeared, he left behind a wife Bambi,  three daughters, and a mistress, Julie. When Julie disappeared ten years later, many people assumed he had sent for her. It was 15 years before her body was discovered.
Private investigator Sandy Sanchez is trying to solve the cold case of Julie’s murder. Digging into the past, he finds layer after layer of secrets and lies. But will he discover the truth?

After I’m Gone uses multiple narrators and weaves together accounts spanning many years. While it initially appears to be a story about Felix, it really the story of all the women he loved and left behind. Each one adds her own unique perspective to this novel.
Part mystery, part family drama, After I’m Gone is all page-turner. Telling a story from so many viewpoints is tricky, but Lippman did an excellent job. Each character has their own distinct voice but they tell one story.
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After Her

After Her
Joyce Maynard

In her previous book Labor Day, Joyce Maynard did such a good job portraying ordinary people doing ordinary things in a really pretty bizzarre situation, and I was hoping for another book with that kind of pacing and tension. I was not disappointed! 
After Her is the story of two little girls, Farrah and Patty, the daughters of a policeman, during a time that encompasses the hunt for a dangerous serial killer.  The girls go about daily life- school, first crushes, playing basketball, wanting a dog- with murder looming onimously in thr background. Finally the girls fall into an encounter with the killer himself- or do they?
The biggest qualm I had with After Her is that it seemed like there were too many side story lines. To me, it was primarily about the dad and the women he loved; the sisters;  and a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a serial murderer.  But then there were all the neighbors, and dogs, and basketball, and all this stuff that was far more detailed then it needed to be. When the author stuck to the characters and themes at the center of the story, it was very good; but in the other sections, my interest wandered.
There was, however, one section that I loved unreservedly- just a few pages in which Joyce Maynard has written a reflection in Farrah’s voice about how strange and wonderful it is to be a 13-yeat old girl. I felt like that was just brilliant! That chapter and the next 50 or so pages felt like the heart of the book, and I came back to the book a second time just to read those pages again.

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