Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Leah" by Ehud Havazelet, A Series of Disappointments

Like Never Before (1998) is Ehud Havazelet's collection of related stories. However, since it’s been a few years since I’ve read the first few stories in the collection, I couldn’t possibly tell you how they are related, except that the main characters are all part of the same extended family.

This morning I just finished reading “Leah”, a fifty page short (?) story in the middle of the book. Sadly, I can’t recommend it. Neither the narrator nor her cousin, Leah, ever endeared themselves to me. Sure, the story does have vivid details as it chronicles the cousin’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

The main stand-out scene is that of the narrator’s loss of her virginity on the removed front seat of a derelict Buick. It’s not so much the telling of the sex as it is the sense of place, the conversation between the teens, and the chaotic arrival of the entourage immediately following the act. David, the narrator’s dangerous brother, Leah, her religiously devout cousin, and a friend of David’s, Barry, show up with a supply of joints. By the end of this section, it’s clear that the narrator has a tendency to throw all caution to the wind. Her bother’s recklessness and cruelty also come across. And Leah is shown to be restrained to the point of absurdity, even though she clearly is fascinated by the aggressiveness of her cousin David.

The tale disappointed me from that point on. Even though the narrative of Leah’s multiple marriages was supposed to be ironic, given the childhood portrait of Leah praying repeatedly for her future husband, I found no surprise or charm in it. Was I supposed to laugh at the wedding scene where the groom abandons Leah at the altar because he has discovered she lied (or allowed her mother to lie on her behalf) about being a virgin, after two previous marriages?

The narrator’s own series of botched relationships wasn’t amusing either. In none of the relationships depicted is there any believable warmth, even though the narrator claims to love her Rumanian drug-dealer of a boyfriend. I felt nothing at the narrative of his assault and robbery. I couldn’t care less that he had to flee the country.

Lastly there is no sense of epiphany at the end of the tale. Leah pronounces to the narrator, “I’ve watched you your whole life and you’ve never known what would be enough for you.” I wanted to shout aloud, “I noticed that 25 pages ago!”

Leah’s seemingly happy marriage at the end didn’t ring emotionally true either. Her bearded husband and bear-toting child seemed like card-board cutouts.

I only finished reading the story out of stubbornness.

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