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Precious: A Novel by Sandra Novack

Precious: A Novel

by Sandra Novack

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I didn't like this book much. I think I was expecting something else, and I had a hard time getting into it when it turned out to be different than I had heard. The title is "Precious," which turns out to be a doll of one of the characters, but the doll isn't very important. So the title becomes the moral, that we often don't realize what's important to us until it's gone.

The book opens with a girl disappearing, but that's not the focus of the book. In fact, I was having a hard time understanding why the disappearance was included at all. The story would stand on its own as the tale of nine-year-old Sissy, her almost-eighteen-year-old sister Eva, and their father Frank. Their mother has left, and her absence impacts them all. (That part should have been left alone; *spoiler alert* we didn't need to see her coming back.)

The character I understood the most was Eva, though I didn't like her. She wants desperately to be grown up, but in many ways she's still a child. More than anything, though, she needs to be loved and accepted, and she seeks to find those through sex, mostly with her English teacher. What happens to her is the climax of the story, I thought, so I ended up disregarding events surrounding the other characters.

The writing was a little too stream-of-consciousness for me, and so I skimmed a lot. It's a short book, so if the blurb on the back sounds interesting, give it a try. But I think it tries to hard to be book-club material and loses the heart of the story. ( )
  theonlinelibrarian | Dec 18, 2010 |
Precious is the story of two families in crisis: the Andersons, a single parent and her only daughter gone missing from the local park; and the Kischs, a dysfunctional family of four. Natalia has left her husband to for the doctor who employs her, leaving Frank alone with their two daughters, Eva, a promiscuous teen and Sissy, lonely and frightened by the disappearance of her neighborhood friend. The theme crying out here is losing those we love, by death, through anger and distrust, without suspecting we had a reason to think they might vanish from our lives.

I liked Precious. The characters are realistic and interesting. The plotline stays away from predictable events . . . . By the end of the novel, the reader is left with questions that plague him: what happened to Eva? Where did she go when she ran away? How did she make a life for herself? Did she give birth to her married lover's baby or have an abortion? I like the parallel author Sandra Novack has drawn between us (readers) and her main character, Sissy. We're left struggling with questions we can't answer. The vanishing acts in Precious are palpable and unsettling. Novack has done an admirable job of portraying love, loss and responsibility. ( )
  dissed1 | Oct 29, 2010 |
As I was reading Precious, Tolstoy's famous opening for Anna Karenina came to mind: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

In Precious it's the Kisches, a working class family struggling through an unhappy, tumultuous summer in 1978 Pennsylvania. The US had just gone through enormous economic and social change post-WWII, and in Precious, it is home to European immigrants like middle-aged, Natalia Kisch, a Hungarian gypsy by birth and a child-survivor of the Nazi pogroms; to Frank Kisch, an American steel worker; as well as, to weary, disillusioned social idealists like Peter, a high school teacher and married lover to a frankly sexual seventeen-year old, Eva Kisch.

The story opens with the disappearance of nine-year old Sissy Kisch's best (and seemingly only) friend, Vicki Anderson. Vicki's mother, Ginny, is an alchoholic whose husband, a Vietnam vet, had committed suicide. She is also one person that a reserved Natalia Kisch has bonded with in the neighborhood. But Natalia, whose life had seemed an "endless succession of small tasks", had left her husband and children some months ago to be with her lover. But now, to the anger and confusion of her husband and children, who are still dealing with feelings of abandonment, Natalia has returned home to find her husband silent and withdrawn; Eva, furious and rebellious; and an imaginative Sissy, troubled by her friend Vicki's disappearance, filled with distrust, and too often left to her own devices.

Novack's prose, deceptively simple, yet profoundly beautiful and wise, explores her characters deeply but with the lightest touch. She seemlessly weaves themes of love, anger, isolation, abandonment, and loneliness from all points of view in a way that feels fresh and new. In Precious, Novack reveals life in all its painful, and often, bewildering inconsistencies.

But Precious is more than a story about a dysfunctional, American family. Her characters are struggling to maintain their balance in a world that "gets [them] in more mundane ways". It's a novel about broken dreams and how they can haunt you into adulthood. It's a tender, emotional work about ordinary people who struggle between their need for personal freedom and individuality, and their need for love, companionship, friendship, and family. Read Precious, and you'll think about it. You'll think about what's precious. ( )
  amerigoUS | Sep 25, 2010 |
Precious is a complex story of a family in turmoil. They are going through a very rough period and the story is not a light one. There are some light moments, but the sadness and uncertainty of what will happen to the family is primary. Sissy, the younger daughter, offers some lighter moments, but even these seem to be shadowed by her family's drama.

Usually when I read a book I have a pretty good idea if I like a characters before I get too far into the story. With Precious my feelings toward the characters kept changing. The voice of the story didn't change, but at different times seemed to focus on what each character was going through at the moment. For example, Frank, the father, originally came across as very distant and uninvolved with the crisis in his family. Once I got to know him a little better I could tell he was just trying to keep his family going as best he could. The focus on the different characters was a very effective way of showing all sides of the story.

I loved the ending of Precious. As I was getting close to the end of the story I was afraid that the ending would tie up the story a little too neatly. I am happy to say this didn't happen. The ending provided some closure but still left a lot of things open to speculation. I love an ending that give you something to think about after the story is over. ( )
  Lallybroch | Jun 12, 2009 |
Sissy Kisch grew up in a confusing family during a confusing time. Her family lived in a Pennsylvania steel town in the 1970s, where her father has been employed at the local steel mill for his entire adult life. Her mother, Natalia, a gypsy child who luckily survived Krackow and was raised by a German couple, has left the family to go off to Florence with her boss. She left Sissy and Eva, the oldest child by several years, to be cared for by their father. In reality, since Frank worked long hours, Sissy was left in Eva's care and Eva didn't want to be saddled with the responsibility of raising her pre-pubescent sister while she was enjoying the freedom of not being parented at the age of 17. Shortly after Natalia's exit, Vicki Anderson, Sissy's former best friend turns up missing from the local playground. Being virtually neglected all around, Sissy has to come to terms with the possibility of death, losing a parent, and growing up all alone while her home is in upheaval during one long, hot summer.

Precious has a very strong sense of time. I imagine a childhood in any era is unique, but Novack captured what it was like to be a child in the 1970s. Despite coming out of the 1960s, it was a more innocent time when children were still allowed to leave the house in the morning so long as they were home on time for lunch and dinner. Most parents stayed married, whether they should have or not. There was a darker underside, though. There were the children kidnapped and murdered and no one really liked to talk about it. Look the other way, and it won't happen to your child. I have very vivid memories of the winter that Linda VanderVeen was murdered and then dumped in a snowbank in my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. It's 30 years later and I can still remember her last name as if it were my own. I remembered her living near my neighborhood and that there were two assailants, but the news story proves those memories false. Funny how your mind draws you closer to something traumatic than you really were. In this way, I could very much relate to Sissy (that and the bike envy, but that's a different story altogether). We both told ourselves stories and those stories become real.

Every single character in Precious is flawed, from the Kisch family, to Ginny Anderson, to Peter and Amy Fulton, and even the well-meaning but gossip-mongering neighbors. When characters are not hurting one another, they are acting out in a self-destructive way. Eva especially turns her anger over her parent's relationship and her mother's abandonment on to herself. She was too young and immature to see it at that time, but she couldn't control her parents or Sissy. The only thing she could do was decide to control her sexuality. The hard truth was that her choices only served to highlight how out of control her entire life was. When others were able to pass off the responsibility for what happened during that summer, she always got caught red-handed. Of all the characters, I felt the most sad for Eva.

Novack's writing is beautiful in so many parts. The first chapter and the way that she told the story of Vicki's disappearance drew me in to this town and to the Kisch family in general. I remained interested in what would happen to all of the characters throughout, despite the fact that I didn't care for any of the adults. At some point we all need to let go of what happened to us in the past, especially if that has a negative impact on our parenting. The only problem I really had with this story was Sissy's name. I know there is Sissy Spacek, but I didn't like it. No matter how much she hated to be alone, I didn't think it fit Sissy's character. Regardless, I would highly recommend Precious to anyone who grew up in or lived through the 70s, experienced troubled teenage years, or enjoys reading novels about family dynamics. You will not be disappointed in this experience - so long as you're prepared and ready for a heavy read. This is a dark novel and it doesn't provide the reader with much emotional downtime.

http://literatehousewife.com/2009/05/164-precious-book-review-and-blog-tour/ ( )
  LiterateHousewife | May 18, 2009 |
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In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and a family in crisis. Lyrical and elegiac, the novel illuminates our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds and consumes us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold on to those we love most.… (more)

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