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When We Were Badby Charlotte Mendelson
Synopses & Reviews
Critics in Britain are already raving about Charlotte Mendelson's excoriatingly funny yet deeply humane novel about a glamorous London family that happens to be falling apart.
The Rubins are the perfect family. They're wonderfully happy and very glamorous. The mother, Claudia, is the ultimate Jewish matriarch: a powerful rabbi known for her charm, brains, and determination. Now this dynastic Jewish family is getting ready to marry off the perfect eldest son. History, community, and even gastronomy unite the guests lucky enough to attend this joyous occasion.
But when the groom — one minute before exchanging vows — bolts with the wrong woman, the myths that have defined this family take on darker overtones. Mendelson's astonishing eye for detail, as well as her just-right balance of plot and character, makes the unfolding of this story an uncommon treat. In a marvelously compressed style that also bursts with life, she reveals how all four adult Rubin children, and their parents, struggle with huge secrets, sexual frustration and sexual experimentation, and many betrayals.
Charlotte Mendelson opens a window on a realm rarely explored in British society: the complicated world of English Jewry. But to watch this seemingly blessed family drastically, disastrously fall apart before regaining balance is to understand that their struggles — like all of ours — are universal ones.
"'With humor and panache, British writer Mendelson (Love in Idleness) presents London's Rubin clan, presided over by matriarch Claudia, a brilliant, charismatic London rabbi blessed with zaftig curves and a will of steel. Claudia seems to have molded nebbishy husband Norman and their four children into the perfect family. But as the plodding eldest, Leo, leaves the altar to run off with his mistress, the fault lines are exposed: next-eldest Frances eventually admits to her despair about her dutiful marriage and her lack of maternal feeling, and even colorless Norman turns out to have a guilty secret. Claudia, however, must preserve the myth of a perfect family because it's the basis of her about-to-be published memoir, 'a moral and ethical handbook for families of the new millennium.' What makes Mendelson's novel especially naughty are her candid observations about the 'crouching, self-loathing way' that many English Jews try to fit into Anglo society while simultaneously maintaining their traditions: Claudia's seder, for example, is a comic set piece of frantic preparation and grim hospitality. But while the social satire is deft, the action upon which Mendelson hangs it veers into farce. And with the introduction of imminent tragedy, the plot abruptly crashes.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] window into a community mixing religion and culture in a way that's both alien and familiar." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mendelson...deftly blends humor and pathos in this portrayal of a family in crisis." Booklist
By all outward appearances, the Rubins are the perfect family: brilliant, successful, enviably close-knit. Then an event of great joy and celebration — the marriage of the eldest son — urns to chaos when the groom jilts his bride and runs off with a married woman. Its a shock to everyone in their small Jewish community, most of all to matriarch Claudia, a successful rabbi. In the wake of this one defiant act, the floodgates to a ruinous wave of gossip are opened, and the secrets that the Rubins have been keeping from one another begin to spill forth. All four adult Rubin children and their parents ultimately must come to terms with their own inner desires and identities. When We Were Bad gives a warm, poignant, and honest portrayal of a family in crisis, in love, in denial, and, ultimately, in luck.
About the Author
Charlotte Mendelson works in British publishing as an acquiring editor. She is the author of two highly praised novels, Daughters of Jerusalem and Love in Idleness. In winning two awards designed to spot talent in writers under the age of thirty-five (the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), as well as being short-listed for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Mendelson joins the company of writers such as David Mitchell, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith.
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