As Close to Us as Breathing

As Close to Us as Breathing

A Novel

Book - 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of the Year

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.

Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780316384148
Branch Call Number: FIC Polin
Characteristics: 358 pages ; 25 cm.


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Nov 24, 2017

The author drew me in immediately with her pace and description of a world rich with culture and tradition. However, I found myself a several points through the book, "Should I keep reading this?" but I enjoyed the layering of characters and events. Glad I finished it but wouldn't recommend it to anyone who gets easily bored.

Jan 21, 2017

This book requires quite a bit of patience on the part of the reader. The central event of the story is told in the very first sentence; thereafter, it's a multi-layered "peeling of the onion" to explore the complex relationships among the many family members as well as the impact of that one event upon the family. The writing meanders, reflecting the rhythms of day-to-day family life. In my opinion, by delving so deeply into the mindset, aspirations and personal conflicts of multiple characters (e.g. Vivie, Bec, Mort, Nelson, Howard) in addition to those of Molly the narrator, Poliner has sought to cover too much. She has attempted, via the verbal and action-based interchanges between characters (e.g. between Howard and Nina; between Vivie and Ada; between Bec and almost everyone) to illuminate the unsaid subtext of relationships; that is a very difficult trick to pull off and it doesn't always succeed, most notably in the banter among the men. The richness of character development doesn't come to full fruition until well into Part Two of the book. By that time, I fear that many readers will have abandoned it.
I try never to classify books by gender, but in this case I feel compelled to say that most male readers would lack the patience to see it through to the end. Overall, it strikes me as an ambitious undertaking despite its shortcomings. I wanted to assign it 2 1/2 stars but rounded up to 3 for the sensitivity of the writing.

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