Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: Sima's Undergarments for Women

Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross is one of the handful of books I picked up at Book Expo America. The rep from Penguin Publishing described it as a quirky little book.

That's exactly what it is, and another book I'd nominate as a beach read (boy, is there a bumper crop of those this year - that or I'm reading a lot more fiction).

The book is about Sima Goldner, a middle aged woman who owns a lingerie shop in the basement of her Brooklyn home. The story gets moving when she hires a beautiful Israeli woman, Timna, as her seamstress. Having a gorgeous young woman in her shop forces Goldner (or at least Ilana Stranger-Ross in telling the story) to revisit her infertility, and how that one thing she couldn't do - have children - has dominated her life, torn apart her marriage and put a big black rain cloud over her head. For decades.

I've never been a very maternal person. I don't coo at babies, and save for literally a week in my early 20s, never had a strong desire to have a baby. I didn't think I would sympathize with Simna, but I did. Stanger-Ross made her sorrow so real, especially in the flashbacks to when Simna was tested to find out why she couldn't have children. They tests they performed her were horrific, even worse than the word the doctor used to describe her: barren.

So even though it's a novel, it was a history lesson, too, about women's health and another generation's gender roles, and how a little communication can change someone's point of view. Very interesting read.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz

I've written about a lot of beach books coming out this year - fantastic reads that I'd recommend again. But they've all been trumped by Rich Boy by Sharon Pomerantz, which I'm naming my top beach read of the summer. If you're going down the shore for a week in August, get this, and plan to be stuck in your beach chair.

It's about Robert Vishniak, a boy from Northeast Philadelphia who dreams of more - much more than his working class parents, in their tiny row home and penny pinching ways, could ever dream of offering him. He's the first in his family to go to college, which should be a good thing, but he ends up chasing the one thing his parents didn't have: money. The novel is about how that one specific drive for that one thing can direct one man's life - well, two, if you count Robert's brother Barry. It's a long and winding novel, and completely engrossing and, yes, sad.

I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and know a lot of people from the Northeast, and can understand Robert's underlying motivation to do better. Pomerantz nails it there. Fantastically. My only quibble is that there are some factual errors in the chapter where the family goes to Atlantic City, and not small errors either. Even if you don't write about the Jersey Shore like I do, you'll probably pick them up, unless they are corrected by the time the final version prints (I have a galley).

But that's a small reason not to like the novel. Mark this one down. It's an excellent read.

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