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....
- National Book Awards
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
The quiet wisdom expressed in this novel and the clear lucidity of its prose would make it a remarkable achievement for any writer. What is perhaps most impressive here is that its author (who wrote the praised The Family Markowitz) is only in her early 30s and has already acquired the psychological perceptiveness and philosophic composure of someone of more mature years. The world that Goodman conjures hereAa small Orthodox Jewish sect who migrate every summer with their leader, Rav Kirschner, from New York's Washington Heights to the upstate old Dutch community of KaaterskillAmay initially seem exotic and remote to most readers, but the scrupulously rendered background of religious observance is the stage on which Goodman dramatizes the universality of human behavior. Beginning her narrative in July 1976 and ending it two years later, Goodman chronicles the small oscillations in the lives of some two-dozen characters. There are other Jewish summer residents, more secular and of higher social status, whose families came to Kaaterskill before the advent of their more observant brethren. The old Yankee families watch with dismay the gradual loss of their property and the town's identity to these strange interlopers. And there are marginal figures who stand between them, notably an ambitious real estate developer who changed his name from Klein to King and is scorned by both communities. With insight, affection and gentle humor, Goodman builds her narrative with scenes of marital relationships, domestic routines, generational conflict, new love and old scandals. Quiet heartbreak occurs, too. Elizabeth Schulman, the much-admired, calmly devout mother of five daughters, almost enjoys the fulfillment of her ambition to do something special with her life until her business project is forbidden by rabbinical decree and she gains a new understanding of a woman's possibilities and limitations among her people. The dying Rav sees clearly the limitations of Isaiah, the dutiful son who will be his successor, and the brilliance of his prodigal son, Jeremy, who in turn finds that his intellectual rebellion has left him spiritually desolate. On the other hand, Holocaust survivor Andras Melish breaks through his anomie to a peaceful contemplation of his blessings. Goodman conveys her characters' religious convictions with a respectful but slightly skeptical eye. Her tenderly ironic understanding of human needs, ambitions and follies, of the stress between unbending moral laws and turbulent personal aspirations, gives the narrative perspective and balance. In knitting the minutiae of individual lives into the fabric of community, she produces a vibrant story of good people accommodating their spiritual and temporal needs to the realities of contemporary life. She does so with the virtuosic assurance of a prose stylist of the first rank.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Dial Press Trade Paperback
August 08, 1999
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Excerpt from Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman
The synagogue is crowded with men, and warm despite the November chill outside. When Isaac arrives for services on Friday evening, he sees neighbors and friends all clustered together in the entryway. The Kollel students are coming in from the little chapel where they study. Dressed alike in their rumpled black suits, carrying their great black-bound books, they pass through the crowd into the main sanctuary where the older men are arriving, businessmen coming from downtown, the storekeepers from the neighborhood, the retired grandfathers. Young and old mix together, and their languages mix: English and German, a little Hebrew, a little Yiddish. Isaac does not notice the mixture; he grew up with it, and he understands all the languages equally. "Did you hear that the Rav is holding his office hours again?" "No, I didn't know." "He's holding them on Tuesdays again." "The same hours?" "Yes. Of course, he's limiting his visitors, butbaruch hashem,he's well enough." The men speak cheerfully. For of course this is good news. Isaac is annoyed at himself for being troubled by it. He walks into the sanctuary; and, as the service begins, he tries to put the talk out of his mind. He stares intently at the pages in front of him, although he knows the prayers by heart. He closes his eyes as he sings and tries to concentrate on the words.Lechah dodi likras kallah, pinei Shabbas nikabelah. Come, my friend, to meet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath. And he turns with the other men toward the door of the synagogue. All of them bow to the door expectantly, as if, like a bride in white, the Sabbath were coming to walk down the aisle between them. They sing as if to make it so. When the shortKabbalat Shabbatservice ends, Isaac closes his tiny siddur and puts it into its blue velvet tallis bag. Quickly he walks out into the chilly evening, the air filled with voices, "Good Shabbes, good Shabbes," the streetlights shining brighter than stars, filling the night with their dusty light. The men are walking home to their waiting families. They are hurrying along the tar-black city streets, past fire hydrants and blue mailboxes, telephone booths, shop windows covered with roll-down steel grids. All the Kirshner stores are closed, dimly lit only for security. The butcher, the florist, the bakery, and the specialty groceries, Grimaldi's with its pyramids of fruit, Eisen's Bookshop with its hand-lettered placard, GIANT SEFORIM SALE. They are all closed for Shabbes; the shul closed and locked until morning. But the night is filled with the sounds of the city, the sirens, the thumping beat of music pouring out of cars. The screech of taxis, the rumble of the trains. Hands in the pockets of his good coat, Isaac walks on. He feels distracted and a little nervous. He knows Elizabeth will want to go to the Rav's office hours, now that they have begun again. She is still thinking about the store. Isaac has not spoken about it to Elizabeth or even told her he called Andras. Still, Elizabeth's idea weighs on his mind, his doubts chafing with his desire to make Elizabeth's store possible. Impractical as it seems, beginning her own project would be such a joy to her. Of course he must tell her that the Rav is holding audiences again. Perhaps he should say that he will go with her to see the Rav. The question tugs at him as he hurries, almost runs, home. Above him the apartment buildings crowd against the sky, not tall and slender like the buildings in midtown, but stocky, shouldering against each other like people in a crowded room. Isaac lets himself into his building. Loosening his scarf as he goes, he runs up the three flights of stairs to the apartment. Then, at last, he opens the door and steps into the warmth of the living room. It's so warm and bright, the table dazzling white, the toys put away