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The Family Diamond: Stories

Overview

Beginning with Milly and Charlie Diamond, a long-married couple facing the world hand in hand, The Family Diamond lays bare the lasting imprint our families make on us—for better and for worse.

In these nine stories we see glimpses of our own families: when Charlie offers advice to his lovesick grandson; when a young man tries to repair his relationship with his estranged brother; and when siblings unexpectedly reunite at a hospital bedside. And when we meet up with Milly and ...

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Overview

Beginning with Milly and Charlie Diamond, a long-married couple facing the world hand in hand, The Family Diamond lays bare the lasting imprint our families make on us—for better and for worse.

In these nine stories we see glimpses of our own families: when Charlie offers advice to his lovesick grandson; when a young man tries to repair his relationship with his estranged brother; and when siblings unexpectedly reunite at a hospital bedside. And when we meet up with Milly and Charlie again, in the final story, they have mysteriously regained their youth and are trying to explain to their friends—and to themselves—this unbelievable reversal of fortune.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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A family's love is like no other. The Family Diamond is not a neat and tidy bundle of stories, and it doesn't celebrate people with clear, uncomplicated lives. What it does is weave together stories of humanity: of a stable brother and his complex feelings towards his flighty sister; of the grandparents who raised their grandson, wondering what advice to offer him; of the father who has long given up on his own dreams but not those of his son; and of the old growing older, more infirm and lonely as the years pass.

Schwarzschild's portraits of life ring true, their messiness and dysfunction a testament to the human spirit, their commitment to moving forward a regular leap of faith. The common thread that joins them is love: romantic love, enduring love, familial love. It is love that joins generations, assured and resilient, that warms hearts and fills lives. And it is hope that endures despite the circumstances, that shines its little head and performs a wholly unexpected miracle.

A truly remarkable collection, The Family Diamond ably reminds us that our journey is what defines us, and it is often our less-than-perfect family that gives us the strength and character to carry on. (Holiday 2007 Selection)
From the Publisher
"Nothing is so difficult to write well as a realistic story about ordinary people. Schwarzschild . . . creates nine such stories here. He does it without trickery. He doesn’t need fancy narrative footwork. No smoke. No mirrors. Nothing up the writer’s sleeve. Nothing on his sleeve, either, except for his heart. Schwarzschild’s stories have great heart. And great art¬-art that is all but invisible. In prose so elegant and so transparent that you hardly notice it, these stories simply unfold before your eyes, compelling and utterly real."—Chronogram
Daily Candy
"Known for taking on controversial roles headfirst, it’s at its best in Edward Schwarzschild’s second book, The Family Diamond, a funny/sad collection of nine short stories set in Philly. . . . Deserves a standing ovation."—Daily Candy (Philadelphia edition)
Chronogram
"Nothing is so difficult to write well as a realistic story about ordinary people. Schwarzschild . . . creates nine such stories here. He does it without trickery. He doesn’t need fancy narrative footwork. No smoke. No mirrors. Nothing up the writer’s sleeve. Nothing on his sleeve, either, except for his heart. Schwarzschild’s stories have great heart. And great art¬-art that is all but invisible. In prose so elegant and so transparent that you hardly notice it, these stories simply unfold before your eyes, compelling and utterly real."—Chronogram
Publishers Weekly

The mostly middle class, Jewish Philadelphians of Schwarzschild's adept story collection (following the debut novel Responsible Men) lead clannish, semimarginalized existences. The young boy of "No Rest for the Middleman" finds himself, on the holiest day of the Jewish year, a pawn in a questionable deal between his father and two shady businessmen. In "Reunion," the pregnant Kim exhausts her brother, sister-in-law and dying mother with her irresponsible search for perfect love. The longest and most dramatically satisfying story in the collection, "What to Expect," tells of early widower Claude, who must let go of his adult son, Larry, as the latter marries and expects a child of his own. Several other stories feature Charlie and Milly Diamond, an elderly married couple facing the indignities of old age together. All the stories are told in a naturalistic style, except for the last, "Irreversible," in which Charlie and Milly regain their youth to the puzzlement of the other residents at the Spring Garden Retirement Community. The bonds of love are alternately tenuous and tensile in Schwarzschild's acutely observed and quietly affecting stories. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The trials and tribulations of relationships are at the heart of this collection of nine tales of modern life; sparkling with wit, compassion, and sometimes whimsy, the vivid characters will not be quickly forgotten. The first of these interrelated stories introduces us to Milly and Charlie Diamond, an aged couple at the hospital. Charlie is about to undergo open-heart surgery for the second time, and Milly is trying to keep her fears under control. In the last story, this same couple discovers a fountain of youth at their assisted-living home and, to the dismay and envy of fellow inmates, improve so much that they can leave on their own two feet. The remaining stories deal with younger couples who are splitting up, coping with the birth of a child, and other life issues. Schwarzschild (Responsible Men) has a hit with his second work; the writing is polished, well paced, and exceptional. Heartily recommended-it will leave the reader with a chuckle and a smile.
—Lisa Rohrbaugh

Kirkus Reviews
Family bonds-through both blood and marriage-take center stage in this story collection from Schwarzschild (Responsible Men, 2005). In nine stories that reveal the rich inner lives of otherwise average Americans, many living in the Philadelphia area, it is the things that characters don't say to their loved ones that carry weight. In "Drift," a young mom stifled by a dull marriage and dead-end job suddenly steals an unattended truck in hopes of escape, only to make a detour to her ex-lover's restaurant, where her husband easily finds her. The devastating "What to Expect" features a battle of wills between a passive-aggressive, needy cab driver and the pregnant wife of his adored only son, and in "No Rest for the Middleman," a man recalls an unexplained beating his immigrant father took at the hands of some shady business associates after attending synagogue during the High Holidays. Spirited elderly couple Milly and Charlie Diamond appear in three of the stories, offering considerable warmth and humor. In the opener, Milly reflects on her enduring love for Charlie, and her fear of losing him, as he undergoes his second open-heart surgery. In another, Charlie tries to give his broken-hearted grandson romantic advice while being reminded of the losses and gains of his own long life. The final tale takes a somewhat metaphysical turn as Milly and Charlie, now confined to a retirement home, find themselves growing younger. This causes considerable confusion for their friends, who believe they have gone on to their final destination (the Hall for Assisted Living) when in fact they have actually embarked on yet another adventure, resolutely together. If only all the stories had characters asmemorable and layered as these two. Yields modest gifts. Agent: Dorian Karchmar/William Morris Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565124103
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/4/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Schwarzschild is the author of Responsible Men, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, a Book Sense Notable Pick, and finalist for both the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Samuel Goldberg and Sons Foundation Prize for Jewish Fiction. He is an associate professor at the University at Albany, SUNY, and a fellow at the New York State Writers Institute.

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Read an Excerpt

I.The bubba of this story, Mrs. Mildred Diamond, had only one working eye, and she had an artificial hip that made her "oof" out loud and sway with each step, but she could still look around for herself, and she knew that the place where the stern surgeon's assistant had told her to wait was no sunroom, and it would never be one, not in her lifetime. "We call this place 'the Sunroom,' " the assistant had proudly said, and it was all Milly could do to stop herself from saying, "Well, you can call it whatever you like, dear, but that doesn't change what it is."In fact, it was not a room at all -- it was a sixth-floor hallway that connected surgery and intensive care, bridging two hospital buildings. In this space, Milly sat and waited between visits with her husband, Mr. Charles Diamond, the zayde of this story. At age seventy-four, he was about to undergo open-heart surgery for the second time. To remember him at sixty-four -- his age when they first cut into his chest -- was to recall his endurance, strength, and kindness. He had the bulky, knotted forearms of a carpenter; he sported a silver goatee, and he wore wide-framed bifocals that doubled as safety glasses when he patrolled the construction sites he was paid to supervise. When he went in for that first open-heart surgery, everyone knew he would recover. Some joked that anesthesia would be unnecessary. Those who worked under him came to visiting hours at the hospital, and they pictures Charlie waking up while the doctor was sewing his chest back together. Their boss would reach out, wrap his hand around the bicep of the young doctor, and say, "That last stitch was a tad off-line. Would you like this old man to show you how it's done?"No one was surprised when he became, after surgery, both stronger and wiser; not only had he faced down death, but he had emerged with more artery space and a brand new heart valve -- he wasn't dead, he had a significantly more efficient breather. He liked to show off the evidence. With the slightest provocation, he would unbutton or pull up his shirt, revealing for anyone not too squeamish the telltale scar that ran like a train track down the middle of his rib cage. He was back on the job in less than two weeks. He moved slowly, but he was there.He didn't get to stay there long, however. He was forced to retire soon after he turned sixty-five. He tried to establish himself as a fix-it man for hire, a local, reliable, friendly doer of odd jobs. He ordered several hundred business cards and he painted his name, phone number, and FIX-IT-UP MAN on the doors of his pick-up truck, but work was hard to come by. He sat in the house, unemployed, hoping for the phone to ring, wondering what to do with so much free time. Then, suddenly, something changed. The phone started to ring more often, but no one was calling about work. They were calling to share terrible news. The people he'd known for years were dying.Milly and Charlie found themselves spending much of their sixties and seventies moving from bedside to bedside, trying to cheer their friends and families through long and short final moments. They would hold hands and look each other in the eyes and they would think and not say, If the Gurbargs, the Maisels, the Marins, the Goodmans, and the Maurers can die, how are we to believe that we can keep going much longer?And yet the doctors spoke to Charlie as if he were the same man at seventy-four that he'd been at sixty-four. They talked in confident voices of increased blood flow and stronger lungs, and they quoted statistics about a new kind of artificial valve made from the heart of a pig. Only a few people heard Charlie's laughter anymore, and they did not hear it often, but Milly remembered him chuckling as he wondered aloud what his father would have thought of such an implant. "What's wrong with the heart of a cow?" he asked the doctors. "Pig valves, you know, they're tref. Aren't there valves on the hearts of kosher animals?"Most of the time, though, Charlie spoke like someone on his way out. At temple, the day before he went to the hospital, Milly overheard him saying such things as "I've had seventy-five good years" or "I've had the pleasure of celebrating my fiftieth wedding anniversary." "The time has come for me to be a little flat on my back," he said. "What can you expect? I can't complain. I haven't had a life you can complain about."
Milly was not waiting long in "the Sunroom" before she saw a friend. Harold Packel, the rabbi of Philadelphia's Congregation Beth Am, was a tall, wide, well-fed man. His suit was simple and black, but his kepah was embroidered with gold, blue, silver, and red. Five days a week, he drove to several hospitals, rode the elevator to the top floor of each one, and slowly worked his way down to the lobby, visiting his ailing congregants. He pulled up a chair and sat down beside Milly. "You know, you're not alone here," he said. "Already I've seen Joe Rothstein in intensive care, and Alfred Mutz is getting ready for eye surgery. Mar Hornig's right arm is being put in a cast. Also I ran into Ellen Frank.""What's Ellen here for?" Milly asked. "Is she visiting, too?"No, they were taking her into X-ray, but I don't think she'll be staying here overnight." "Is there anyone else?"Rabbi Packel took a small blue memo pad out of his shirt pocket, flicked some pages, and said, "Well, I have written down that I should look for Milt Singer around the delivery room because his granddaughter's due for twins. And then there's Meyer Levin, he's a regular volunteer here. You'll see him come strolling by in his uniform." He closed the pad, placed it back in his pocket, and then he leaned forward in his seat. "When I stopped by Charlie's room," he said, "the nurse wouldn't let me in. Tell me, Milly, how is he?""Surgery first thing in the morning," she said. "And the doctor told us it might take a long time because he's not exactly sure what he'll find -- six, maybe eight, hours. He says there will be scar tissue from the first surgery and that makes it especially difficult."The rabbi stood up, Milly stood up with him, and they hugged. "I should continue on my rounds before it gets too late," he said. "Is there anything I can do for you while I'm out and about?""With all these people in the hospital," Milly said, "we should play poker. Could you tell people where I am when you see them? Ask them to come by and play a few hands with me before they leave. Just penny ante.""Okay. I'll spread the word," the rabbi said, stepping back toward the bustling crowd of patients and staff and passerby.
Milly, hungry and tired, sat by herself in the "the Sunroom." She wanted to go home and she wanted to take Charlie with her. But she stayed put, turning to face the windows so she could watch the sky grow darker outside. She saw a bus drive into the parking lot and it made her think of her friends and acquaintances who occasionally traveled to Atlantic City casinos. She knew plenty of people who made those trips in search of a jackpot, a tumble of coins, a stack of chips, enough money to remove all worries from their retirement. But she also knew most of her friends went to the glitzy buildings for a different reason. They went to Atlantic City because at the slot machines, or the blackjack table, or at craps or roulette, they could experience the workings of chance and suffer only financial loss. They could step into a world of possibility, play for normal stakes, and it was not impossible to win. Even more, regardless of whether they won or lost, at the end of the day, everyone ate dinner together, and the bus waited to take them all home.Before she drifted into a nap, Milly was thinking that the hospital was a casino of health, well lit around the clock, and she was wondering how many times you could walk out feeling better or even feeling the same. How many times could you put your open heart on the table and get it back?
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