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As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel by…
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As Close to Us as Breathing: A Novel

by Elizabeth Poliner

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There is no shortage of books focused on Jewish family life, but Elizabeth Poliner’s stands apart as in instant classic according to a review by the Jewish Book Council. It is a multigenerational family saga about the long-lasting reverberations of one tragic summer. The novel examines an extended family and its world over three generations. Its point of focus is the summer of 1948, immediately following the state of Israel’s birth and, for the Leibritsky family, the trauma of its youngest member’s accidental death. The story takes place during the family’s summer vacation at a place they call Bagel Beach on the Connecticut shore. The men enjoy the beach cottage over weekends, the women live there through the summer months. Sisters are estranged, love is frustrated by duty, marriages fail, and a boy dies for no reason. Poliner makes us explore how much do you owe your parents, your people, your creator, yourself? When have you paid enough? “Poliner handles the texture of Jewish family life with brilliance, authenticity, and a touch of wistfulness.”
  HandelmanLibraryTINR | Nov 12, 2017 |
Told by Molly, as she looks back on her life as a member of a large extended Jewish family. The central event of their lives is the accidental death of her younger brother Davey, which we learn on the very first page. Then she takes us back to learn about and understand Molly's mother, and her mother's sisters, as well as a cast of cousins and friends. But the story keeps circling back to the death, and how it affected various family members, at the time, and for years afterward. Well written with well-developed characters, this is a deep study of a family, their lives and loves, and well-meaning steps and mis-steps. ( )
  cherybear | Jul 14, 2017 |
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to discussing it at bookclub. The development of characters, relationships, and settings made it easy for me as the reader to envision all that was happening. I was particularly taken with the relationship between Molly (the narrator) and her Aunt Bec, who early in the book advises Molly "...you have to be yourself. You have to. Or something in you dies." If you enjoy family sagas, this is one that will suck you in early on and keep you fully engaged until the last page... ( )
  Jcambridge | Jul 13, 2017 |
I really enjoyed this -- I thought the characters were all compelling and the story drew me in quickly. A bit soapy, perhaps, but definitely a great weekend read. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 21, 2016 |
March 2016 Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown
Ah, families. They can be such a joy and such a torment. But for one family, a single day in 1948 changes all their lives forever.
In that moment, Davy, just a little boy, is killed in an accident by the ice cream man. What came before that day and what came after is told by Molly, Davy's older sister.
It all started the way their summer vacations usually did. They opened up the house in the small Jewish enclave and then began their usual summer rituals...dips in the ocean, running along the beach, preparing the meal for Shabbos.
This particular summer, new things occur. Romances are begun and turn into something more serious than a summer fling. The children begin to mature, and realize things about their parents that had stayed hidden to them before.
Then, after the death, their lives continue. Always the family rotates back to the summer home, always they work to deal with their individual grief and the heavy burdens of their individual guilt.
The development of each character and the ways their lives intertwine are deeply considered in this novel. The voice, which has more of a memoir tone, becomes a bit wearying at times; the voice too often allows the mundanely of the dialog to overwhelm the straightforward narrative.
But for a certain type of reader, the page will fly along. The only pauses will occur when the reader wants to savor some moment in the family...which is often. Overall a strong novel that deals with a lot of complexities in an interesting way.
4 stars!
Interested in a novel about adult sibling relationships? Try Reparation: A Novel of Love, Devotion and Danger. A young Lakota Sioux man must save his sister and his lover from a peyote cult before the minister enacts a mass murder. 4.8 star average on Amazon!
  Laine-Cunningham | Oct 4, 2016 |
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Epigraph
You are as close to us as breathing, yet You are farther than the farthermost star. ---Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book
Dedication
For my parents and for the family, Madnick, Matzkin, Pashalinsky, Poliner
First words
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.
Quotations
But such is the way if family: we are what they tell us we are, and part of life's great struggle, it's always seemed to me, is to know oneself despite that imposing collective definition.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316384143, Hardcover)

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 twelve 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 18 Jul 2015 13:18:45 -0400)

Enjoying summertime weeks of freedom at a popular Jewish beach with their children, beautiful Ada thrives away from her strict husband, while chef Vivie develops diplomatic skills, and unmarried Bec is forced to choose between family beliefs and her passion for a married man.… (more)

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