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Something Red: A Novel [Paperback]

Jennifer Gilmore

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Book Description

March 10 2011
In Washington, D.C., life inside the Goldstein home is as tumultuous as the swiftly changing times. In 1979, the Cold War is waning and the age of protest has come and gone, leaving a once radical family to face a new set of challenges. Something Red is a masterly novel that unfurls with suspense, humor, and insight.

Dennis, whose government job often takes him to Moscow, struggles both to succeed in a career he doesn’t quite believe in and to live up to his father’s leftist legacy. Sharon, a caterer for the Washington elite, joins a cultlike group in search of the fulfillment she once felt. Happy-go-lucky Benjamin is heading off to college, there to experience an awakening of social conscience, and sixteen-year-old Vanessa finds a cure for alienation in D.C.’s hardcore music scene. As each of them follows separate trajectories of personal protest and compromise along the edge of a new decade, radical traditions long dormant in their family awaken once again, with shocking, far-reaching results.

A poignant story of husbands and wives, parents and children, activists and spies,

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 10 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547549423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547549422
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #717,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Rich and entertaining." -Vanity Fair

"Ambitious and provocative, more Molotov cocktail than standard-issue domestic drama, raising profound questions about loyalty, independence, love of family and of country." -O, The Oprah Magazine

“Gilmore glides smoothly from one perspective to another, giving equal and anxious weight to each…Gilmore has pulled off a remarkable feat: not of fusing the personal and the political but of showing why they’re so difficult to reconcile.” —Susann Cokal, New York Times Book Review

“Rendering the Goldsteins with appealing vividness, Gilmore seems mostly interested in their inner lives. She digs deep into their histories—both personal and familial—to get at the root of their beliefs and to hint at their spiraling disenchantment.” —LA Times

"[A] richly textured story of the irritations, disappointments, disruptions and remembered joys of family life." -Judith Viorst, Moment Magazine

“In this wonderfully funny and compelling story of a splintering suburban family, Gilmore has written an intimate social history of three generations of American Jews.” –Washington Post --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

JENNIFER GILMORE's first novel, Golden Country, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2006 and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She currently teaches at Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unfulfilled promises May 7 2010
By Dennis S. Wulkan - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What could have been, but got lost in the storytelling and style, this novel promised much but did not deliver. This is a tale of the Goldstein family, Dennis and his wife Sharon, their two children, and their parents. It is a coming of age story of Ben and Vanessa (the kids) during the time of the Iran hostage crisis, and it describes the relationship between Dennis who is constantly traveling to Russia on government business and Sharon who is starting up a catering/hosting business.

Jewish themes, EST & the personal growth movement, an affair, the Grateful Dead, acid trips, and the Olympics boycott provide the backdrop as the plot moves semi-flashback style through the Goldsteins' past. But we never get to really know the characters in depth nor feel their pain. Throughout the novel I kept waiting for the thread that would pull everything together, to help me understand why I should care about these characters and the events. Somehow the style did not work for me, the writing did not merit the time and energy investment.

So at the end of the book, I wonder what's the point? There were a lot of opportunities to bring the story together, but I don't feel I just know enough or care enough about this family to think twice about the book I have read. There certainly are reminiscences of Carter, the hostage crisis, the embargo, The Dead, and the tenor of the times that bring back a few memories, but in the end, so what? Does all that a good novel make?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family Tension and Politics as the 70's End April 2 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
President Jimmy Carter was much maligned for acknowledging a "malaise" that pervaded the United States in the late 1970s; of course, this was because he had a point.

Jennifer Gilmore's Something Red explores the ways in which relationships and attitudes about family, god, love and country diverged and clashed in this time of disillusionment and cultural drift. The author's eye and ear (and, it seems safe to assume, memory) for period detail is terrific; most striking, though, is her attention to another of the senses, as food assumes a central significance in the novel.

The main characters are often defined and separated by what they eat (or don't), and of no small importance is the fact that central figure Sharon Goldstein is a caterer to the power classes of Washington, D.C.; Sharon's 16 year-old daughter, Vanessa, has recently stopped eating meat and drinking alcohol; her son, Ben, newly departed for Brandeis University, is discovering his Jewish roots and becomes involved in a campus protest centered on the introduction of pork and other non-kosher foods to campus dining halls; and the novel itself opens with a family dinner party Sharon hosts as a send-off for Ben, during which the political and religious fault lines running between and within those assembled begin to surface. Gilmore's depiction of a dinner table conversation veering toward disaster is note-perfect and skillfully sets the stage for conflicts to come.

It may be hard to believe that the 1979 U.S. embargo on grain exports to the Soviet Union can become, in 2010, the stuff of genuine narrative tension. Here, though, it does, as Sharon's husband Dennis, an official in President Carter's Department of Agriculture, finds himself suddenly facing the prospect of no longer making regular visits to Moscow to arrange grain deals; he's come to love the city and dreads reassignment to Latin America or Asia, places for which he feels no affinity.

Tensions and estrangements small and large are the focus of this engaging, surprising novel. In a truly challenging and soul-trying time, Jennifer Gilmore's very human and sympathetic characters seek their ways forward, trying to find selves and roles they can live with; the author's empathy and imagination ensure that their efforts, which yield varying results, provide the reward of satisfying narrative and felt emotional truth.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Never quite comes together June 13 2010
By Silicon Valley Girl - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"Something Red" is the story of the Goldstein family--dad Dennis, mom Sharon, son Ben (later "Benji"), and daughter Vanessa--during 1979 and 1980. The story begins in August 1979, right before Ben leaves for college, and is told in alternating points of view over the winter and into the spring. Dennis, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is worried about the effect Jimmy Carter's grain embargo will have on Russia and on his own career. Sixteen-year-old Vanessa, who a year ago was a beer-swilling, pot-smoking party girl, has dropped her old friends for a new boyfriend, punk rock, and a "straight-edge" lifestyle of apparent self-denial that masks a serious eating disorder. Sharon, food-loving co-owner of a catering company, has joined an EST-like self-actualization program called LEAP. And Ben reinvents himself the first week he gets to college, changing from a superjock who screws every girl in sight to an acid-dropping Deadhead who faithfully attends every protest with his ubercommitted girlfriend. Supporting characters are the grandparents -- Sharon's parents, Helen and Herbert, who joyfully left New York for Los Angeles and cheered when Ethel Rosenberg was electrocuted, and Dennis's left-leaning parents, Sigmund and Tatti, who cling to their Lower East Side apartment and their Socialist political convictions.

This is the kind of book I normally would like. So why didn't I? First, "Something Red" shares a problem with a lot of literary novels: None of its main characters are remotely likeable. In fact, based on the inner monologues through which we get to know them, they're all rather vile. This isn't because any of them has done anything especially horrible or is even much more selfish or self-centered than the average person. There's just something repellent about their voices. These are the kind of characters at whom other authors have poked gentle (or not-so-gentle) fun (I'm thinking of Cyra McFadden's "The Serial" and David Lodge's academic satires). But there's no sense of satire, and precious little humor, in "Something Red." We see the characters floundering, but we (or at least I) don't like them enough to care.

Second, the sense of period is just off. It's hard to put my finger on how. But I remember those years well--I'm the same age as the character Ben--and, despite multiple, accurate references to the culture and politics of the period, I never believed this story was happening in the end of the '70s. Maybe it's the speech patterns--at one point, one college student tells another to "chill," an expression I never heard before the mid-'80s. Or maybe it's the music; there's lots of obscure punk and Grateful Dead, but the Cars and the Captain and Tenille--two bands that were inescapable at the time--are strangely absent. Maybe it's the food: Sharon's attitudes are a little too Alice Waters for 1980; and aren't cherries jubilee kind of Kennedy-era for 1979? The author was born in 1970, and she obviously did a tremendous amount of research for the book. But some point, the multitudinous period details began to seem excessive and heavy-handed. I found myself wishing that she'd just set the book a little later, in a time period that she herself remembered better, so she wouldn't have had to put so much obvious effort into painting a period picture.

In sum: There's a lot of story here, and some of it's pretty good. But ultimately, "Something Red" never quite comes together, either as a plot-driven novel or as a character study.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner from Gilmore April 3 2010
By L. Chesloff - Published on
I loved Gilmore's debut novel, Golden Country, and have been anxiously awaiting the release of her second book. It did not disappoint! Something Red is a riveting read filled with complex characters and rich with history. Gilmore tells the story of each member of the Goldstein family through alternating chapters and paints a marvelous portrait of the family as a whole when they come together for Parents' Weekend at Brandeis, where Ben Goldstein attends college. Both funny and poignant with a surprise ending, this book is a winner!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another funny, touching, intelligent novel from Jennifer Gilmore April 4 2010
By PEZ Denver - Published on
I loved Jennifer Gilmore's first novel Golden Country for the complex characters and perfect blend of humor, history and a few tears here and there. With Something Red, Jennifer has done it again - she has crafted a highly readable novel with interesting, relatable characters and a storyline that draws you in and holds your attention through the unexpected conclusion. The novel is incredibly well-researched and effectively captures the paranoia and fear that occupied the American psyche at the height of the Cold War. Gilmore also blends in the culture of the late 70s/early 80s - the rise of punk rock, the Deadheads traveling to shows in their hippie buses, and of course, the ongoing American obsession with what to eat (or in some cases, not to eat). I highly recommend Something Red for readers looking for an intriguing, intelligent, and touching novel.

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