The Stepman

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Very funny, and so far from sentimental that its insights often have a whiff of cruelty, Margolis's portrait of a marriage at the breaking point is narrated by Abner Minsky, a poet and college writing instructor in upstate New York, who feels suffocated by his wife, job counselor Lora Sachsman. Their 10-year-marriagewhich began as a hippie idyll in San Francisco after bohemian painter Lora's first husband abandoned her and their two kidsis now at a festering impasse. It's a duet of accusations, fights and mutual distrust. Abner feels like a stranger to Lora's rebellious teenage son and daughter, whom he lovingly raised, and even to their own two-year-old, Hannah. Al, Lora's ex, wants to come back into his children's lives, fueling the tension. From Lora's vantage, Abner is undemonstrative, unavailable, sarcastic, continually dissatisfied. A fight erupts, and Abner splits for the summer, back to old pals in California, where he contemplates divorce, works as a gardener, writes poetry fulfilling his "Jewish/Blakean vision of the world riddled with ecstasy." When the open road leads back to Lora, it's not at all a happy prodigal's return: Abner comes home to resume the messy negotiation of their lives, suffused as much by resignation as by contentedness. Both Abner and Lora are grandiose, but Margolis makes them vulnerable and, despite their flaws, sympathetic. He writes with rare insight into the dynamics of step-parenting and the divided loyalties that strain families. He also offers a witty take on the egoistic hazards of being a poet or pursuing any creative calling. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Angst, troubled marriage, flight, and reconciliation figure in this novel of 1970s life. Two former New York Jews meet in a California commune. Avner Minsky is a poet and explorer of sorts, and Lora Sachsman Rosen is an artist with two children whose father flits in and out of their lives. Told by Avner, the story focuses on step-parenting and its effect on his marriage to Lora. After moving his new family cross country to an academic setting in the East, Avner escapes for a summer, back to California. His old buddies aren't doing all that well, and he returns somewhat sobered to what can best be described as a "modern marriage." Nicely told but unremarkable, this is recommended for large fiction collections.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
Kirkus Reviews
First novel about a man who flees a floundering marriage in search of his past.

Abner Minsky drifts into San Francisco during the later days of flower power and, after going through a number of girlfriends, falls in love with a painfully indecisive woman, Lora. Abner fancies himself a poet who, like the Beats he admires, sees all the world reflected in ordinary things. When he's admitted to graduate school in Upstate New York, Lora and her two children reluctantly follow him. The couple then have a child of their own and settle into an impoverished, artistic, but more or less middle-class existence, with the gentle Abner trying hard to be a good stepdad. After ten years, though, the marriage has turned into the bleakly ordinary, with Abner at last aware that being a poet in American doesn't pay much, and facing the realization that he also isn't much of a poet. Meanwhile, Lora has become a committed feminist, so that she's continually railing at Abner for being uncaring, a chauvinist, etc. Confused, angry, he goes back to California, where he does some hard physical work and reconnects with old friends now living in a commune and trying (more or less) to remain true to their hippie ways. Before long, Abner makes a pass at someone else's old lady and gets tossed from the commune. Driving back to New York and Lora, Abner, somewhat the wiser, reflects ruefully that he's a "man whose personality is so cemented in its place that change is impossible. Consider that there may be no happy ending."

Indeed. Enough time has passed that Margolis's portrait of flower power San Francisco is entertaining, and he writes lyrically about ordinary love, capturing the way relationships can be eaten up by pettiness. But Abner's odyssey is rendered here in a fashion so exceedingly mundane that many readers will find themselves unmoved by Abner and Lora's woes.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781877946769
  • Publisher: Permanent Press, The
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.81 (h) x 0.83 (d)

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