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God Bless the Child

God Bless the Child

by Ellen Feldman

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Ex-hotshot TV journalist Bailey Bender leaves Manhattan for the Hamptons for a simpler life and to try and devote herself full-time to finding the child she gave up for adoption years ago. But when murder interrupts her quiet quest, Bailey soon finds herself in the thick of things once again.


Ex-hotshot TV journalist Bailey Bender leaves Manhattan for the Hamptons for a simpler life and to try and devote herself full-time to finding the child she gave up for adoption years ago. But when murder interrupts her quiet quest, Bailey soon finds herself in the thick of things once again.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

The heroine of Ellen Feldman's sixth and very appealing novel is Bailey Bender, a 40-something ace television news producer who has retreated from New York to live full time in the Hamptons. She is divorced and lives alone with a cat "who knew more about hailing a cab to go to the vet than hunting and killing."

Bailey has quietly settled into working at the local bookstore, purchased a few years before by a widow, Maude, who previously "has a successful career as And-His-Lovely Wife." Feldman writes: "They were both expartriates from other worlds and felt faintly alien in this one, and some nights after they'd locked the door and turned off the lights in the front of the store, Maude took a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from the bottom drawer of her desk, and Bailey got the ice tray from the small refrigerator in the office at the back of the store, and they put their feet up on cartons of books and talked about everything under the sun, except their passed lives , which they kept stowed away like old clothes that might come back in style someday but probably wouldn't."

Along with working, reading, jogging and light meditations at the beach, Bailey takes trips to see her mother, Gilda, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease: "Her face was immobile, but her eyes still held some life, and for a moment she was the smart, calculating woman who'd worked her way up from a job as a part-time saleswoman to … a buyer whom half the houses on Seventh Avenue had courted and feared." She plays the tricky role of confidante to a 15 year old girl, Nell: "Nell had blossomed, and suddenly her confidence had shrunk and her worries grown. She worried if her sweaters and shorts, if her body was as thin and her face as pretty as the bodies and faces in the ads in the magazines she now pored over, and if her boys liked her. Her worries worried Bailey. She watched Nell, and saw her disappearing into a long, dark tunnel from which she wouldn't emerge until she was a 70 year ago widow, and was shocked at the surge of protectiveness she felt. Or maybe it was only envy. "And she tactfully but persistently tries to duck the relentless attentions of Mack, a charming though dysfunctional ("Nice pickup, Mack. Who'd you buy it from, Ma Joad?") local with whom Bailey had had a one-night stand the summer before.

It is in this subdued life that Bailey recognizes her need to deal with the unfinished business of her past: to find the son she gave up at birth more than 25 years ago. She does not wish to intrude into his life, but she would give anything just to see him, to know him, maybe to have some kind of relationship. The whole idea is fraught with the possibility for the pain and conflict, but Bailey has made up her mind. She is going to find him.

Up to this point, "God Bless the Child" unfolds flawlessly. And then, suddenly, there is- I don't know what else to call it- an editorial upheaval, as if someone had cut 50 pages out of the middle of this novel to throw us bam-smack into a plot twist that is not believable. This is particularly unfortunate for a writer like this, who, given the narrative time, could make anything believable. The considerable talents of Ellen Feldman did bring me back to the fold. In fact, I became willing to forgive anything if only to be able to finish the journey with Bailey.

What is dizzyingly splendid in the second half of the novel is the description of Bailey's being sucked out of the shadows and flung into the forefront of a sensational court case called the Polo Murder. ("Someone...ran it past legal to make sure Ralph Lauren couldn't sue.") Better yet, we are introduced to a host of new characters who represent the well-to-do of the Hamptons, and we see how many of their problems revolve around the same issues that plague the locals- love, sex, money, alcohol- but how very differently these problems play out for them, or are hidden . We've also got a terrific story developing with some young people in the novel, and they are fascinating to watch as they struggle to grow past their parents' inabilities to sustain healthy relationships.

In short, there is a whole lot going on in "God Bless the Child," and while the novel does not totally work as a mystery, there is plenty of suspense and genuine excitement well done. More than anything, though, it is the depiction of Bailey Bender and her relationships with family, friends and lovers that makes the novel come alive.--Laura Van Wormer, New York Times Book Review 5/17/98

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Former TV news producer Bailey Bender, the heroine of this sensitive but formulaic novel, has abandoned her New York City career in TV news for a new life working in a bookstore (and ambivalently dating Mack, a recovering alcoholic Vietnam vet) on Long Island's eastern tip, but it takes two intertwined mysteries to bring happiness within reach. Against the advice of her sharp-witted, impossible mother, Bailey is trying to locate the baby she gave up for adoption 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the body of a pregnant Vassar woman turns up at the summer house of the rich Prinze family, and suspicion falls on the dead woman's lover, spoiled, gorgeous Charlie Prinze, whose father, a TV columnist, has old connections to Bailey. She gets involved in the case, which leads her to discover her son's identity, and becomes an honorary member of the Prinze family. While Bailey and Mack grow closer, neatly parallel subplots trace the relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. There are interesting, believable characters and dilemmas here, but Feldman's sixth novel (after Rearview Mirror) traps them in an overly tidy plot. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Feldman (Rearview Mirror, 1996, etc.) is like your favorite neighborhood take-out restaurantþthe fare is reliable, but youþll likely be hungry again a few hours after eating. Bailey Bender is still young, attractive, and thirtysomething, but unlike many women of her generation she's given up her career track job in the big city and moved out to the boondocks (well, New York's version: the Hamptons) to get away from memories of a bad marriage, stressful working conditions, and other perils of urban living. A former TV journalist, she finds peaceful and restorative work at the local bookstore and launches a search for the child she gave up for adoption years before. A circle of women figure prominently in her country life: her mother, who resides in a nearby assisted-living residence but still has the energy and spunk to tell Bailey what she should and shouldn't do; Maude, the older woman who owns the bookstore, which she started after her children left home; and 14-year-old Nell, who also works in the store (part-time), spends far too much time with her older boyfriend, Kevin Lonergan, and has become something of a surrogate daughter to Bailey. When a lovely Vassar coed is found dead at the home of 20-year-old Charlie, the son of ridiculously wealthy summer residents, Bailey's instincts kick in and she can't help herself from getting involved in the mystery. Meanwhile, local yokel Mack MacKinley has his eye on her, and sheþs not sure how she feels about the attention, but Mack's too wrapped up in his relationship with a difficult ex-wife and sulky teenage son to come wooing properly. Eventually, the crime gets solved and its many loose ends sorted out in amanner that seems slightly too neat. Thereþs no denying the instant gratification of Feldman's latest treat, though the pleasure doesnþt last. Deft but unmemorable.

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4.22(w) x 6.79(h) x 1.08(d)

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Anne River Siddons
Ellen Feldman is a remarkable writer….Her ear for contemporary women's fiction is virtually perfect.

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