Synopses & Reviews
A stunning debut novel by the celebrated author of The Family Markowitz. Taking her lead from Jane Austin, one of America's most remarkable young writers explores the private lives of three Jewish families who summer together in the upstate community of Kaaterskill, New York.
In The Family Markowitz, Allegra Goodman wrote "smart and slyly funny tales" (Newsday) "with dazzling authority and copious amounts of wit and good will" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). She opened a window on the ordinary life or ordinary Jews as she introduced "one of the most engaging, maddening, and recognizable families to come along in years" (The New York Times).
Now, in "Kaaterskill Falls", she opens a window on three far from ordinary families who migrate each summer to tiny Kaaterskill in upstate New York:
Elizabeth and Isaac Shulman are followers of the Ray Elijiah Kirshner, and mid-1970's, along with the rest of the Kirshner community, they drive up from Manhattan to the Catskills. Elizabeth is devout; her life centers on her husband and their five daughters. But she is unusual among the Kirshners. She spends her pregnancies reading Milton and Tolstoy. She gives her children fanciful secular names alongside their common Yiddish nicknames, and imagines great futures for her daughters. She imagines a future for herself.
Across the street, Andras and Nina Melish own a large house near that of Andras' sisters, Eva and Maja. Bound to his sisters by their shared history Budapest, and their wrenching escape from the Holocaust, Andras cannot enjoy his own new family, his children and beautiful young wife.
On the hill nest to the synagogue, the old Ray Kirshner is looking out his window, watching his people.He wonders at their timid piety in this foreign world, America, and he wavers about which of his sons will best lead the new generation -- the pious but solid Isaiah, or the brilliant but worldly Jeremy.
Elizabeth tastes freedom in Kaaterskill, mixing with the town's scheming judge, Miles Taylor, and librarian Ernestine Schermerhom, even starting a business with advice from Andras. But in her world, the Rav's word is law, and Elizabeth's troubles slam when she begins to push against his authority.
"Kaaterskill Falls" is a novel about strict loyalties and inner doubts. It is about the pull of tradition and the hunger for change. But the joy is in the reading; here Allegra Goodman has come of age.
In the summer of '76, the Shulmans and the Melishes migrate to Kaaterskill, the tiny town in upstate New York where Orthodox Jews and Yankee year-rounders live side by side from June through August. Elizabeth Shulman, a devout follower of Rav Elijah Kirshner and the mother of five daughters, is restless. She needs a project of her own, outside her family and her cloistered community. Across the street, Andras Melish is drawn to Kaaterskill by his adoring older sisters, bound to him by their loss and wrenching escape from the Holocaust. Both comforted and crippled by his sisters' love, Andras cannot overcome the ambivalence he feels toward his children and his own beautiful wife. At the top of the hill, Rav Kirshner is coming to the end of his life, and he struggles to decide which of his sons should succeed him: the pious but stolid Isaiah, or the brilliant but worldly Jeremy. Behind the scenes, alarmed as his beloved Kaaterskill is overdeveloped by Michael King, the local real estate broker, Judge Miles Taylor keeps an old secret in check, biding his time....
About the Author
Allegra Goodman's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Allure, Food and Wine, Vogue, Commentary, and Slate. She is the recipient of a Whiting Award, and the Salon Magazine award for fiction. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is at work on a second novel.