The Family Markowitz

The Family Markowitz

2.3 4
by Allegra Goodman, Jane Hamilton

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"The Family Markowitz is one of the most astute and engaging books about American family life to have come our way in quite a while." —Linda Matchan, Boston Globe

In The Family Markowitz, Allegra Goodman writes with wit and compassion of three generations of Markowitzes making their way in America. At the center is Rose, the cantankerous


"The Family Markowitz is one of the most astute and engaging books about American family life to have come our way in quite a while." —Linda Matchan, Boston Globe

In The Family Markowitz, Allegra Goodman writes with wit and compassion of three generations of Markowitzes making their way in America. At the center is Rose, the cantankerous matriarch, who longs for her earlier life in London and Vienna but is now forced into dependency on her sons Ed, an academic expert on terrorism (ahead of his time!), and Henry, an artistic expatriate with a taste for antiques and postmodern poetry. Also in the family circle are Sarah, Ed's wife, who teaches creative writing and longs for a more literary life, and Sarah and Ed's daughter Miriam, a medical student who causes great alarm in her largely assimilated family by rediscovering Judaism.

Through her sharp-eyed observations of weddings, hospital vigils, holiday dinners, and other rituals of family life, Goodman writes about the Markowitzes from the inside, bringing each character to life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Goodman's voice is fresh and distinctive as she limns a wry, funny, touching portrait of an American Jewish family in a brilliantly observed, lovingly rendered novel composed of interlocking stories. Rose Markowitz, stubborn, outspoken, kvetching, a survivor and an individualist whose youth was spent in Vienna and London during WWII, is 73, living with her second husband in Manhattan, when we first meet her. He dies, and for most of the book, Rose, now in her 80s, copes with lonely widowhood in Venice, Calif., where her bachelor son, Henry, an art gallery manager, lures her to live. But soon he splits for Oxford, England, to become an Anglophile scholar and aesthete. Rose's other son, Ed, a Georgetown University historian of the Middle East and media pundit on terrorism, is, in Henry's eyes, a rank apologist for the PLO. Sarah, Ed's novelist/poet wife, is a frustrated fame-seeker, distracted from her writing by having to raise four children. Their daughter Miriam, a Harvard Med student, surprises her secular, liberal parents by embracing Orthodox ritual observance. Goodman (Total Immersion), who has published sections of this work in the New Yorker and Commentary, combines delicious comic set pieces with deeper meditations and conversations on Jewish identity, God, frazzled relationships and the breakdown of family life. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Goodman's chronicles of Jewish life (Total Immersion, LJ 5/15/89) continue with three generations of the Markowitz family explored in ten delightful stories. Rose, the matriarch, loses second husband Maury in "Fanny Mae." She subsequently appears as a lonely disgruntled figure along with her son Ed, a fuzzy academic; Henry, his younger brother, an effete sometime art dealer; Ed's wife Sarah, a homemaker who missed out on literary life; and their daughter, Miriam, a religious medical student. In "Oral History," which also appeared in Total Immersion, Alma, a wealthy WASP graduate student at Berkeley, is interviewing Rose, a Holocaust survivor. Rose has since left New York to live near her son Henry in Venice, California. Rose thinks Alma is messy, "unpressed." Alma thinks Rose is befuddled and tries to organize her thoughts using historical jargon. The dialog is delightful. Goodman has mastered the art of melding pathos with humor in the best style of Jewish story telling.Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
Allegra Goodman writes circles around most other young writers by not writing circles around them. Her unfussy, matter-of-fact style borrows from Grace Paley and Philip Roth, but in The Family Markowitz, her new collection of linked short stories, Goodman sounds like nobody else. You move through these smart and slyly funny stories -- about a cerebral and squabbling extended Jewish family -- with an increasing appreciation of her deep-seated talent. It's bad form to quote blurbs from book-flaps, but Cynthia Ozick gets it exactly right about Goodman: "All the muse-fairies were present at her birth."

Goodman has a gift that's inherent in many comic writers -- the ability to pull together an intimate but far-flung group of people (in this case, a family of failed intellectuals, cranky matriarchs and religiously obsessive children) and stand back while they annoy the hell out of each other. What's refreshing about Goodman, however, is that she doesn't settle for easy riffs and cheap ironies. While there is plenty of nicely grouchy humor here (one character complains that his brother has spent endless years in therapy only to develop "the most complicated persona possible -- the expatriate Brooklyn Jew in Oxford"), Goodman's prose has a steady, silent reserve that always indicates she has bigger things on her mind.

Most of the tension in The Family Markowitz is supplied by Goodman's interest in the clash between orthodoxy (religious, academic, you name it) and modern liberalizing impulses. Thus, two brothers maintain a running, and often hilarious, dialogue on modern scholarship. One brother rejects the other's political and sexual analyses of books because, "For Henry, reading had always been a gentle thing, a thing as delicate as blowing eggs. Two pinpricks and the meaning came, whole, unbroken, into the bowl." And in a moving story called The Four Questions, about a ritual Passover dinner, a father wonders what he did to make his young daughter so conservative and angry.

Goodman's one previous book, a collection titled Total Immersion, appeared nearly eight years ago, in 1989. The Family Markowitz is a revelation, and more than worth the wait. -- Dwight Garner

Kirkus Reviews
With wit, panache, and genuine affection for her characters, Goodman (Total Immersion, 1989) offers a saga of an archetypal Jewish-American family.

Though ostensibly a novel, many of the "chapters" here were originally published in The New Yorker as short stories, giving the work the feel of a collection, a photo album offering both casual snapshots and formal portraits of the family's history. A lack of narrative cohesion is sometimes discernible, then, as each chapter takes up a different relative during the last 15 years or so of the family life. Still, the slight discrepancies and holes in the chronicle are only mildly disruptive, for Goodman creates a wonderful collection of genuine individuals. The book begins with 73-year-old Rose Markowitz at the deathbed of her beloved second husband Maury. Popping Percodans, suffering through a visit from Maury's estranged and overbearing Israeli daughter, Rose is doing all she can to retain dignity in the midst of difficulties, including her sons' bickering financial advice. The aging Rose makes several appearances later in the narrative, though the tangled lives of her two children, Henry and Ed, take center stage. The Anglophilic Henry, a second-rate art dealer in Venice Beach, transforms himself, becoming the manager of a Laura Ashley boutique in Oxford (while changing sexual preferences midstream). Meanwhile, Middle East scholar Ed wages small battles with life's encroaching difficulties: Rose's overdoses and illnesses, his daughter Miriam's new fanatical orthodoxy, and the small, persistent indignities and peculiarities of the scholarly life. These trials and tribulations are hardly as prosaic as they sound, for humor and compassion abound; Goodman draws the reader into the family circle with such deftness and speed that these self-aware, determined characters all begin to seem remarkably and enjoyably familiar.

A success for Goodman, offering a frank and funny depiction of the strains and intermittent but distinct joys of family relations.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.45(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.55(d)

Read an Excerpt

from Fannie Mae
"Esther," Rose calls through her neighbor's closed door, with its blistering paint and the new steel plate around the knob.
"Who is it?" Esther's muffled voice floats back.
"It's Rose."
"Rose Markowitz." The door opens, and they fall into each other's arms. "How are you dear?" Rose asks. "I thought I heard you last night on the stairs, but I couldn't leave him. Now the woman from the service is here. What business do you have taking a cab so late?"
"Come in, come in," Esther says. "My nephew met me."
"Who? Arthur?"
"Come in, Rose."
"No, I can't stay."
"Just for a minute. Let me get you some coffee. I've made it already."
"But I really can't stay," Rose says as she walks into Esther's apartment. "I was just going downstairs for the mail." They sit together at the kitchen table and sip coffee from Esther's china teacups. They have lived in the building for twelve years, and their apartments are mirror images of each other.
"I'm speaking Hebrew," Esther tells Rose. "And midaberet ivrit. "
"You took those Hadassah classes?" Rose asks.
"I went on ulpan," Esther says, as if to say she went on safari. Rose thinks that anyone in the room would notice the contrast between Esther, full of energy after six weeks in Miami, and herself, wan and exhausted from staying here in the city all winter with Maury ill and no one to help. Having to do things when she didn't have the strength. Esther is tall, and big in hip and shoulder, her brown hair puffy, although thinning a little in the middle. Rose, who has always been petite, has lost weight -although she is still not thin. Her hair is short, once black and now irongray. She no longer has time for herself or the beauty parlor. "And who do you think I met on the first day?" Esther asks. "Dr. Mednik's sister."
"He and I," says Rose, "are not on speaking terms."
"No, you are not," Esther agrees. "But it was strange to see the sister there. She looks nothing like him it only came out later."
Rose stares at the place where Esther's oven should be, except that the apartment is a mirror image.
"And then right after, just a couple of days later, I went to the kids' hotel, where Dougie had his bankers" convention, and I was sitting by the pool and there out of the blue came Beatrice Schwartz with him; he's had surgery? he speaks artificially, you know, with a voice box -but she's still walking around with her fingernails out to here painted white, and the white slacks with the pleats, the knife-edge pleats. They weren't even the only people I saw. I could go on and on. It was just, you know, one small world after another. But I was worried about you, Rose."
"Well," says Rose, "he's very ill."
"But he's in good spirits?"
"Happy as a lark."
"I hope I have such a happy disposition at his age," Esther says. Rose's husband, Maury, is eightythree, ten years older than Rose, fifteen years older than Esther.
"Now, on top of everything, today his daughter is coming."
"From Israel?"
"We haven't seen her in years, and now she decides to come. "
"I can talk to her in Hebrew," Esther says.
"And she's staying with us," Rose tells Esther. "Here in the apartment."
"For how long?"
"She wouldn't say." Rose lowers her voice to a whisper. "She has an open ticket, and I think that she is determined to stay until, God forbid, the end."
Esther shakes her head.
"What else could she mean by coming now? She has never ever come before."
Copyright© 1997 by Allegra Goodman

Meet the Author

Allegra Goodman's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Allure, Commentary, and Slate. She is the recipient of a Whiting Award and the Salon magazine award for fiction. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The Family Markowitz 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this is a novel,it is also a selection of short previously published 'works'. They share the same well written characters, and provide an interesting insight into each of their lives, all set in the lead up to an Orthodox Jewish wedding. All the episodes reinforce the importance of our place and link with history and tradition, but also remind us that we should also be willing to welcome change. A clever, humorous read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a hodge podge. I have no idea what is going on. It was slightly humorous in the beginning, but now it is all choppy and disconnected. A shame because I adored her other book, Kaaterskill Falls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the beginning of this book was witty and true to form. after some time of reading, it lost focus and the entire story went absolutely nowhere. skip this one. save time