Love and Shame and Love: A Novel

( 3 )

Overview

Alexander Popper can't stop remembering. Four years old when his father tossed him into Lake Michigan, he was told, Sink or swim, kid. In his mind, he's still bobbing in that frigid water. The rest of this novel's vivid cast of characters also struggle to remain afloat: Popper's mother, stymied by an unhappy marriage, seeks solace in the relentless energy of Chicago; his brother, Leo, shadow boss of the family, retreats into books; paternal grandparents, Seymour and Bernice, once high fliers, now mourn for long ...

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Overview

Alexander Popper can't stop remembering. Four years old when his father tossed him into Lake Michigan, he was told, Sink or swim, kid. In his mind, he's still bobbing in that frigid water. The rest of this novel's vivid cast of characters also struggle to remain afloat: Popper's mother, stymied by an unhappy marriage, seeks solace in the relentless energy of Chicago; his brother, Leo, shadow boss of the family, retreats into books; paternal grandparents, Seymour and Bernice, once high fliers, now mourn for long lost days; his father, a lawyer and would-be politician obsessed with his own success, fails to see that the family is falling apart; and his college girlfriend, the fiercely independent Kat, wrestles with impossible choices.

Covering four generations of the Popper family, Peter Orner illuminates the countless ways that love both makes us whole and completely unravels us. A comic and sorrowful tapestry of memory of connection and disconnection, Love and Shame and Love explores the universals with stunning originality and wisdom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vibrant and captivating, this novel about three generations of the Popper family of Chicago resonates with truths about human nature. Orner has a unique ability to create dramatic momentum from a series of punchy vignettes. We meet the central character, Alexander Popper in 1984, when he is 13, and the novel chronicles events in his life even as it looks backward at the marriages and domestic contretemps of his grandparents and parents. Seen against the casual corruption of Chicago politics and historical events in the country at large, the narrative is an acutely observed sociological picture of Jewish middle-class families from the 1930s through the 1970s. Popper’s paternal grandparents endure an unhappy marriage but maintain social pretenses. His parents’ marriage founders when his father, too old to be drafted at 39, enlists in WWII “to get out of the house” (his wartime letters are interspersed). Popper himself finds the woman he loves at the University of Michigan, but their union undergoes a typically contemporary twist. Orner’s (Esther Stories) surefooted control of his narrative gradually discloses information that conveys emotional and physical atmosphere. As the Poppers move into better neighborhoods, subheads with the family’s changing addresses identify time and place and cultural milieu. Two themes—sometimes comic, often rueful—intersect throughout: the secret shames, frustrations, and humiliations that each character endures, and the search for love that blossoms and then fails in each generation. A richly layered, intimate picture of a distinctive but also typical family enduring life’s vicissitudes and stoically carrying on. Line drawings by Eric Orner, the author’s brother. (Nov. 7)
Library Journal
Set amid the slugfest that is Chicago politics, this four-generation saga of the Popper clan begins with Alexander's 1984 not-Bar Mitzvah, an interview with a "not that crooked" federal judge for which Popper's father has carefully prepared him. Moving back and forth in time, award-winning author Orner (The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo) exposes the unhappiness in Popper's gene pool. Grandfather Seymour's letters sent to his wife, Beatrice, during World War II are wrenching missives of loneliness, optimism, and hurt at Beatrice's silence. Popper's parents start on a more hopeful note, but modern life covers for the unsatisfying emptiness of their upscale lifestyle. And then there's Popper, whose enervating insecurities could give Woody Allen a run for his money. VERDICT Orner's short, jittery chapters, some a mere paragraph or two; his incomplete sentences, which completely control the narrative; and his gift for the well-placed single word that can denote full-throttled exasperation are addictively compelling and could very well send readers to his earlier works.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Orner anatomizes family relationships with precision in a novel that spans three--and touches on four--generations. At the center of the author's examination is Alexander Popper, a fiction writer manqué (he tries in vain to write a "good, sad story") and reluctant law-school graduate who winds up handling misdemeanor cases for the Cook County Public Defender. His lack of professional accomplishments does not, however, define him as much as his failed relationship with Kat, whom he meets at the University of Michigan. Although they never get married, they eventually have a daughter, Ella. We also learn of Alexander's exceptional brother, Leo, and their parents, Miriam and Philip, whose unhappy relationship, owing to Philip's cheating with a family friend, blights Alexander as well as his mother. (Miriam is forced to take temporary jobs such as census taker and lackey in a real-estate office.) And going back yet one more generation, Orner introduces us to Seymour and Bernice. They work their way to prosperity and then see it decline because of some morally questionable business practices on Seymour's part. These are profoundly unhappy people, trying to make it yet living their lives in such a way as to make unhappiness inevitable. Orner approaches his narrative with a nonlinear chronology, moving back and forth from Seymour's wartime notes to Bernice, to Alex's adolescent peccadilloes, to Alex's letters to Ella. The result is a masterful, multifaceted novel. Readers will find both love and shame in abundance in Orner's teeming fictional world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316129381
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 11/13/2012
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 546,755
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Orner was born in Chicago and is the author of two widely praised books, Esther Stories and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and The Best American Short Stories, and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes. A 2006 Guggenheim Fellow, Orner is now a faculty member at San Francisco State University.

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Customer Reviews

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