A multigenerational family saga about the long-lasting reverberations of one tragic summer by "a wonderful talent [who] should be read widely" (Edward P. Jones).
In 1948, a small stretch of the Woodmont, Connecticut, shoreline, affectionately named Bagel Beach, has long been a summer destination for Jewish families. Here sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec assemble at their beloved family cottage, with children in tow and weekend-only husbands who arrive each Friday in time for the Sabbath meal.
During the weekdays, freedom reigns. Ada, the family beauty, relaxes and grows more playful, unimpeded by her rule-driven, religious husband. Vivie, once terribly wronged by her sister, is now the family diplomat and an increasingly inventive chef. Unmarried Bec finds herself forced to choose between the family-centric life she's always known and a passion-filled life with the married man with whom she's had a secret years-long affair.
But when a terrible accident occurs on the sisters' watch, a summer of hope and self-discovery transforms into a lifetime of atonement and loss for members of this close-knit clan. Seen through the eyes of Molly, who was 12 years old when she witnessed the accident, this is the story of a tragedy and its aftermath, of expanding lives painfully collapsed. Can Molly, decades after the event, draw from her aunt Bec's hard-won wisdom and free herself from the burden that destroyed so many others?
Elizabeth Poliner is a masterful storyteller, a brilliant observer of human nature, and in As Close to Us as Breathing she has created an unforgettable meditation on grief, guilt, and the boundaries of identity and love.
©2016 Elizabeth Poliner (P)2016 Hachette Audio
"What a lovely, lovely book." (Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge)
"Vivid, complex, and beautifully written, Elizabeth Poliner's novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. This moving story of the way one unforgettable family struggles with love and loss shows an uncommon depth of human understanding. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again." (Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World)
"Poliner depicts each character with sensitivity and insight.... Beautifully written, stringently unsentimental, and yet tender in its empathy for the perennial human conflict between service and self." (Kirkus)
This was an unique listening experience. I was interested from the start, but it wasn't until I got to the first bit about the ice cream man that I realized that while I was interested and wanted to keep listening, I didn't really CARE about any of the characters. So I asked myself why.
It was the structure. The story is told through a 12-yr-old's eyes (Molly) so she'll be telling the story and then she'd say, "My mother this, my father that," and later started calling her parents by their first names, which somewhat yanked me out of the story. I'd begin thinking of it as a straight 3rd person POV and then realize (again and again) that it was the daughter telling the story. When the ice cream man showed up, it was just a 3rd person POV. So I had to get over the slightly odd way the story was told. Fortunately, that sort of faded out as the story went on, alternating between past, present, and the future.
After it turned into a more traditional 3rd person POV, all of the stories were so good, so interesting, although we get much less of Molly's story than some of the other characters. A little odd since she is the narrator. While I was invested in all the characters and all the stories, Bec's story was the most intriguing.
I almost quit reading the book with all of the detail about the Jewish ritual details, especially with Mort, but I'm so glad I didn't. A wonderful story about family, commitment, choices and love....
While an interesting look at post war Jewish life, there was just nothing to take away from the book but sadness. It may have well been an American holocaust story. Not one character really experiences happiness in their lives.
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