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Thursday, 17 March 2016

New and notable: As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

Elizabeth Poliner's latest novel is a character-driven saga which chronicles the Skyrin family beginning in the late 1940s and spanning generations. A tight-knit family, they spend summers together at their cottage in Woodmont, Connecticut, known as "Bagel Beach" due to the area's popularity as a summer destination for Jewish families such as the Skyrins. In the wake of the Holocaust, American Jews tended to band together, after all.

The rules are rigid and established: the women rush to prepare the Sabbath meal, and the men attend morning minyan services, and everyone knows their place even if they push the boundaries a little, given the idyllic summertime atmosphere. But everything goes sideways for the Skyrins one summer, after a tragic event occurs. It's hardly a spoiler to mention it, as the event is the central one in the story and is revealed in the first sentence of the novel by the narrator, Molly, who was 12 years old at the time: "The summer of 1948 my brother Davy was killed in an accident with a man who would have given his own life rather than have it happen."

The rest of the novel is spent gradually unraveling the lead-up to Davy's death, and the devastating consequences that followed the loss of this beloved child. Poliner explores atonement, grief, tradition, family and identity, and the fraught ties between them. With her keen eye for human behaviour, Poliner's characters come across as real people. Though the characters take the spotlight, Poliner's storytelling is also worthy of a mention, as she slowly reveals details that bind the story together. This family drama will suck you into its orbit and leave you wanting more!

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