The Featherbed is the life story of Rebecca Kalish, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, told from the perspective of her two daughters, Anna and Sadie, as they read her diary after Rebecca’s death. The plot encompasses two separate plotlines: it is the story of Rebecca’s life as an immigrant in New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as the story of Anna and Sadie’s conflicted relationship from their childhood until their mother’s death in the 1980s.
The concept of the prominent plot of the novel, a woman’s life rife with dark secrets and traumas, is intriguing, yet the telling seems somewhat stiff and forced. It was difficult for me, as a female, to connect with the female characters in this book; their expression of thoughts and feelings seemed remote from my experience, even though I come from a similar heritage and background. Also, the plot meanders through a plethora of overly dramatic personal situations ranging from an arranged marriage to an abusive husband, prostitution, and abandonment, to abortion, miscarriage, and homosexuality. All of this packed into a book less than 350 pages long! The novel is also geared to a specific audience. Individuals familiar with Jewish rituals and “yiddishisms” will feel quite at home in this world, but others will feel as though they have entered a foreign country without a guide.
All in all, The Featherbed is an interesting study of Jewish immigrant life in turn of the century New York City, but the storytelling at times lacks depth and overcompensates with drama.