Set in an upwardly mobile suburb of New Jersey, Grodstein's compelling melodrama digs into the life of Dr. Pete Dizinoff and his existence as a husband and a father in the early 1990's and onto the present day. We first meet Pete on a bench beneath the Palisades, as he reflects who he was and where he came from, an internist in New Jersey, educated on scholarships, married more than a decade to his beautiful wife Elaine with his son twenty-something Eric who is prospering in an entirely different direction than the one would have expected. We aren't sure what, but something devastating has happened in Pete's life, and even as he ruminates on the past, the collapse of the Soviet Union and all the misery that ensured, his tragic tale unfolds.
Reeling from the events surrounding the tough looking pretty Roseanne Craig a girl of 22, the daughter of an acquaintance who suffered from weight loss and mild depression, Rosanne's brother confronts Pete in the shore of the Palisades, throwing beer and screaming obscenities. Pete has finally crossed the line between acceptance of his fate and his refusal to bow down to the ramifications of an impending malpractice suit. Elaine, who has known him for over half her life, now has regrettable doubts about his loyalty and steadfastness, Certainly, in all the years together he'd grown to rely on her support and the largeness of her mercy. But she fears the shadows of a malpractice case as Pete's future is balanced on his fingertip: "a suite that could blow his whole life and livelihood away."
Throughout this novel, Pete is surprisingly unaware of his shortcomings as a husband and a father. Nonetheless, Pete has lived in the excessive garden "of the good and suburban" with best friends Iris and Joe Stern, all in search of a world of success. Fourteen years previously, Iris and Joe had a problem with his daughter Laura, the year she turned seventeen when her baby at 25 weeks gestation, was found dead on a trash can not too far from the Round Hill Municipal Library, Laura had delivered on the second-floor bathroom. The baby's skull was crushed like an egg. The crux of the legal battle that follows is whether the baby alive when Laura had smashed its skull? And whether Laura had been in her right mind.
Even as Pete harbors a vague disgust at what Joe's daughter had done, and the self satisfaction of not having had it happen to his family, Laura returns to their lives with her thick reddish hair falling over her shoulders, and steadily intuiting herself into Eric and Pete's existence. Now a seductive, overpowering thirty-year-old woman, she has a benign smile, demure twinkle in her eyes. Meanwhile, a cartoonish, ludicrous transformation comes over Alec and soon he's being seduced by her free wheeling attitudes. For Pete she's far from the clever, not the blank, nervous girl he remembered and far from the girl who was admitted to a psychiatric facility.
The author writes of Pete's human experiences as he works though his profound loss while trying to restore a broken heart and the sense that his son has ultimately betrayed him. Grodstein beautifully movies us through Pete's various dramas, the threat of homelessness, wifelessness, joblessness and earlier, his father's death and then Elaine's battle breast cancer. Meanwhile, long time friendships are strained when Alec comes forth with a decision that he will try living a life in France with Laura instead of college. Consequently, the relationship with father and son is badly damaged. Pete is both a victim of his own hubris and a survivor, his stubbornness and neurosis, while irritating, is always believable, especially when he bristles at Eric's sense of entitlement, the nights he doesn't come home but stays at Laura's place in the East Village. Certainly Pete and Elaine have their far share of challenges - as do Iris and Joe - but all must cope with the consequences of Eric and Laura's rebellion and disenchantment with bourgeois life. With elegant prose that reflects the sacred Jewish heart, Grodstein beautifully conveys the struggles of family even as Pete is forced, through his own arrogance to finally question his moral compass and the decisions that have bought him to this time and place. Mike Leonard October 09.