Floating in the Neversink
Eighteen short stories form this coming-of-age novel focused on Jewish life in the 1950s. The scene shifts between the everyday of school and work in the garment trades centered in Brooklyn, and the extended family’s otherworldly, somehow more vivid vacation time in the “Hebrew Himalayas,” the bungalow colonies of the Catskills where the Neversink River flows past Fallsburg. I did wonder why the name of the vacation village had to be changed where almost everything else retained recognizable and familiar nomenclature. Each story could stand alone, but together they make a readable whole, with all the usual tropes: the Red Apple Rest of the famous pineapple pie, Betty Crocker cake mixes, and shande.
Amanda learns to negotiate family cruelty, mean girls, groping male relatives, suicides, business failures, first loves, non-Jews in the neighborhood, the threat of polio and unrealistic television expectations. At the same time, she learns from her grandmother’s card games and the beauties of nature. Female-female friendships are portrayed in a way I found more true-to-life than those we see through the usual Disney filter. “The guilt,” we are told on page 125, “was like quicksand.” There’s not much by way of moral and developmental arc, more slice-of-life, which may limit the impact for some readers.