Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Wizardry of Jewish Women by Gillian Polack

A few years ago, I was strongly urged to watch Downton Abbey.  I asked what it was about.  'An abbey.'  Yes, alright.  I'm not daft.  What's the plot?  ' watch it.'  I continued to put it off until I had a broken ankle.  Again.  Unable to move, I figured it would be a great chance to give this plotless television show a fair chance.  I watched the first episode.  I enjoyed it, but I couldn't figure out why.  So I watched another episode.  Then another.  Then another.  Soon I had consumed three seasons.  That was when it hit me.  There isn't a plot other than humanity.  That's what pulled people to the show so strongly.  It shows life in all it's glorious ugliness.

That's exactly what I found in Polack's book.  I began reading and found myself several chapters in, before I realized I hadn't found the distinct plot I was looking for.  I began to really look at why I was so mesmerized by this book.  That's when the link hit me.  This book has the same character magic that Downton Abbey has.  I haven't read such a fine character piece since The Lion Trees.  We get to see the beauty of life, the ugliness, the ineptness and the trite.  Everything that makes life so precious is laid out on display in a manner that you can't help but admire.  They aren't all likable.  Some of them are rude and callous.  Some of them aren't worthy of life.  There's even a smarmy one.  I do so love the word 'smarmy' but it suits him perfectly.  In Polack's characters, we join in every fear and insecurity.  We hurt and rejoice along with them.  While you're sitting back (more like hunched over the novel), reading, you're immersed in their world.  You're not hanging on every action to see what will happen next.  You're hanging on every emotion and needing a stiff shot of whiskey.  This is life in all of its perfect imperfectness.

In the beginning, I had a little trouble with the timeline.  However!  I want to make it very clear that this is done on purpose.  The story is told from more than one point of view.  We have the narrator's point telling the stories of Rhonda and Judith.  We also get to have Rhonda and Judith telling things from their perspective at points.  The fact of the matter is, life doesn't run in a perfect timeline.  It feels like it when we're recounting our day, but when you look back at the history of your life, pieces get all muddled together.  Sure, there's third grade and then fourth grade and eventually high school.  I mean the important pieces of life.  'Jimmy Joe cheated on me and my sister was in a car accident and killed a skunk and I had to go to prom with peacock feathers on my butt.'  When you look back at those types of things in life, you have to force them into chronology because they aren't magically there.  They just exist.  They are.  They're a part of you.  The timeline is only there if you force it to be.  What's my point?  That's how the beginning half of this book is written.  It's not all chronological.  It simply is.  If you go into it looking to jump from Point A to Point B, you're going to find yourself confused.  Enjoy the now.  Enjoy what you're reading as you're reading it.  The pieces will all fit themselves together when it's time and no amount of forcing them will change that.

I've already explained this is a character study, but there's more to it.  It's also a mystery.  It's a paranormal.  It's religious and political.  It's ethical.  It's family and love.  It's romance.  It's skeletons in the closet.  It is the epitome of life.

I was so entranced by this book that I burnt dinner.  I'm a good cook!  Just ask anyone except my  mother.  I was so gone from reality that I didn't hear the sizzling sounds or smell the charcoal smell.  To be honest, I can't even remember what it was that I burnt.  I simply turned off the stove and disposed of whatever it was.  I wasn't really hungry anyway.  I just wanted to read.  Normally, I can flip through a book in a few short hours.  With several breaks for reality.  This book took me an entire week to read, with reluctant breaks for reality.  A LOT of living goes on in 362 pages.  You don't want to miss a single word and oftentimes I found myself sitting and staring at the page as my mind processed what I'd just read.  Nothing about the reading is difficult.  In fact, it's quite a pleasant read.  But when you read something that needs processed, it usually means that you've connected.  I connected pretty often in this book.

On a personal note:  Everyone needs a Dave.  Long live Dave!  I'm not just saying that because he's my favorite character.  Also, my sincere apologies for all the Downton Abbey.  I simply couldn't help myself after my opening!

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