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Other People's Lives by Johanna Kaplan

Other People's Lives

by Johanna Kaplan

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(Fiction, 1970s)

This is a book that I requested from NetGalley because I was intrigued by the cover and title. I had hoped, I think, to peek in many apartments and many lives.

Instead, the book focused on one woman and her rather odd story.

Of course, that’s only my opinion. Other People’s Lives was the winner of a Jewish Book Award and was a finalist for the 1976 National Book Award.

3 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Mar 6, 2017 |
I either love or hate short stories. The title attracted me to this collection. Other people's lives can be fascinating and reading about them can be a guilty pleasure, even if you just get snippets in a short story. Sadly, these lives weren't, and I lost interest almost immediately. The author treated each character as if the reader already knew them and gave details that were confusing and off putting. It was like I was looking in on lives that were already in progress and had to try to figure out what had gone on before I started reading. Although this can be done successfully, in this case the fragmented stories were distracting and irritating. Just as abruptly as the stories began, the conclusions of each also seemed to drop me without letting me feel any kind of closure. The author is eloquent, but for me, that wasn't enough to save the collection. I did finish the book, but it was a struggle and a challenge.

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this collection. I'm sorry to say that although I often enjoy vintage publications, this one is not one that I will recommend. ( )
  c.archer | Jan 29, 2015 |
On the outs. One point of view dominates the novella and five short stories of Johanna Kaplan’s "Other People’s Lives." And most often, this outside-looking-in stance results from a combination of culture and self-imposed exile. This tension plays out with pathos, and often laugh-out-loud humor in this remarkable collection.

The title piece is the novella, and it contains the story of Louise, who is placed in the apartment of a famous dancer’s family. It establishes the collection’s tone and point of view and theme right away, and goes further: it puts the story in the consciousness of a mental patient, Louise, who sometimes can’t trust what she sees and hears. She apparently has hallucinations, and may have petit mal seizures. A healthy portion of the energy of this story comes from Maria, the German wife of the famous dancer, who manically mangles English, to terrific comic effect.

Other stories feature girls in junior high or high school, at camp, or home sick from school, or babysitting. They have in common an intelligent, if a little eccentric, female Jewish protagonist, who sees and approaches the world on her own terms. Often there is a wise-cracking vulnerability to these appealing creatures, and few have any problems speaking up to the frequently addled adults they live with or near.

"Other People’s Lives" rides a groundswell of endearing, exposed, nervous humanity. Its mouthpieces already have a couple of strikes against them, being Jewish and female (except for one Chinese girl in Vietnam), and they stake out their ground in ways that range from sassy to cranky to plaintive.

This is a highly assured collection for a debut piece, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1976, and won the National Jewish Book Award. Reading this collection was a delightful experience and I recommend it highly. ( )
  LukeS | Dec 16, 2014 |
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Finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Jewish Book Award: A collection of five stories and one novella from Johanna Kaplan exploring the private worlds of Jewish families in New York in the middle of the twentieth century In her first published literary work, Johanna Kaplan, acclaimed author of O My America!, examines the lives of other people with heart, humor, and a unique understanding of their problems, demons, and dreams. An achingly poignant collection of character-rich stories, Other People’s Lives centers on the children and grandchildren of immigrants, mostly Jewish, living in urban America. They are people struggling with the past, mental illness, loss, family legacies, and all variety of expectation in the mid-twentieth century; they are transplanted strangers entering, and often imposing upon, the personal lives of others. From the brilliant title novella, in which a troubled young woman enters the rarefied orbit of a famous couple, to the delightfully appealing tale of a skeptical city girl’s unhappy expulsion to a summer camp in the country, Kaplan’s stories explore the power of self-delusion and the all-too-frequently unspoken pain of memory.… (more)

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