Almost Perfect Moment, An: A Novel

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9780060520878: Almost Perfect Moment, An: A Novel

In Brooklyn, in the Age of Disco, Valentine Kessler -- a sweet Jewish girl who bears a remarkable resemblance to the Virgin Mary of Lourdes -- has an unerring gift for shattering the dreams and hopes of those who love her. Miriam, her long-suffering mother, betrayed and anguished by the husband she adores, seeks solace in daily games of mah-jongg with The Girls, a cross between a Greek Chorus and Brooklyn's rendition of the Three Wise Men, who dispense advice, predictions, and care in the form of poppy-seed cake and apple strudels. When her greatest fear for Valentine is realized, Miriam takes comfort in the thought that it couldn't get any worse. And then it does.

Sagacious, sorrowful, and hilarious, An Almost Perfect Moment is a novel about mothers and daughters, star-crossed lovers, doctrines of the divine, and a colorful Jewish community that once defined Brooklyn.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of An Almost Perfect Moment, On Mermaid Avenue, A Disturbance in One Place, Pure Poetry, Hester Among the Ruins, and History on a Personal Note. She is a professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she is chair of the Graduate Writing Program.

From The Washington Post:

Binnie Kirshenbaum -- she of the unforgettable name -- turns out to be a terrific writer. In the course of two short story collections and four novels, her gift for neurotic comedy has deepened into a more humane generosity; she hasn't become just another fast, funny urban smartmouth. Her excellent last novel, Hester Among the Ruins, was the richly layered exploration of a love affair in Munich, complicated by the dark discoveries to be found in both love and history.

In An Almost Perfect Moment, Kirshenbaum turns to Canarsie, Brooklyn, in the early 1970s, "on the cusp of the great age of disco." Forget Vietnam, forget national sturm and international drang -- there's so much going on here in this Brooklyn of idyll or fable, "in the day and age when your parents were your parents and not your friends, a day and age when families didn't share or open up and there were no television commercials dictating talk to your children." It's a time when domestic verities are firmly fixed, if not eternal, for stay-at-home moms, husbands who still come home for a hot lunch, and teenage girls to whom a bunny jacket is the fur equivalent of a training bra.

We meet two powerful social groups, middle-aged and young. The adults are Miriam Kessler and her mah-jongg friends. Years ago, Miriam's husband ran out on her and their little daughter, Valentine, but Miriam's three girlfriends remained true: After all, "no person was an island." Then there are the teenagers. Canarsie High School, a place of brutal Social Darwinism, is "no place to go it alone": You have to have allies and you can't risk being thought queer. Not "queer" in its sexual-orientation sense; this is the queerdom of nerds, geeks and dorks whose attention can contaminate you, of borderline cases now expelled from the peer group because one day they wore the wrong socks to school.

And there are the loners who refute the romantic notion that teenage nerds will metamorphose into attractive adults. Joanne Clarke, a biology teacher at Canarsie High, has a beautiful body, but acne has disfigured her heart as well as her face: She's mean to her senile father. John Wosileski, who teaches math, looks like a pancake but has a sensitive soul. By all the laws of novelistic compensation, these two ought to find each other -- but John worships his student Valentine Kessler from afar.

And Valentine? She's 15 years old and turning a little "queer," even though she's the prettiest girl in the school. She listens patiently when her friend Beth says, "I definitely want to do it with Joey, but I'm going to wait until Hanukkah." But Valentine has no interest in the usual teenage sexual politics. A nice Jewish girl, Valentine can't get the song "Ave Maria" out of her head. She's been reading The Lives of the Saints (which a librarian gave her under the mistaken impression that she'd be looking for the "hot" parts). And Valentine bears a striking resemblance to those pastel cards and garden sculptures that depict the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you hear that Valentine, still a virgin, unaccountably becomes pregnant and gives birth to a wondrous child, you'll think Binnie Kirshenbaum has bitten off more than she can chew as a novelist.

But she's entirely equal to the challenge, with no resort to cheesiness, hardness of heart or self-congratulatory irony. A decent reviewer should not tell the ending of the novel -- it's appropriate and touching -- but it's probably all right to reveal that, along the way, Enzio's Pizzeria is transformed into a shrine to the Holy Mother because Valentine stopped there for two slices plain and a Diet Pepsi. As the perky local-TV reporter says, quoting Einstein, "There are only two ways to look at life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is."

The real wonder of An Almost Perfect Moment is that, halfway into it, you've begun to care about Kirshenbaum's characters. They're deeply, even ludicrously flawed, but they're not figures of fun because they all carry the existential burden of loneliness and the fear that "in time it would mutate into something worse than loneliness: the surrender to it." A few novels ago, Kirshenbaum may have exploited the possibility of mocking this condition, but in An Almost Perfect Moment she manages to be both funny and compassionate. She doesn't cite Philo of Alexandria, but she could have: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Reviewed by Frances Taliaferro


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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Book Description HARPER PERENNIAL, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In Brooklyn, in the Age of Disco, Valentine Kessler -- a sweet Jewish girl who bears a remarkable resemblance to the Virgin Mary of Lourdes -- has an unerring gift for shattering the dreams and hopes of those who love her. Miriam, her long-suffering mother, betrayed and anguished by the husband she adores, seeks solace in daily games of mah-jongg with The Girls, a cross between a Greek Chorus and Brooklyn s rendition of the Three Wise Men, who dispense advice, predictions, and care in the form of poppy-seed cake and apple strudels. When her greatest fear for Valentine is realized, Miriam takes comfort in the thought that it couldn t get any worse. And then it does. Sagacious, sorrowful, and hilarious, An Almost Perfect Moment is a novel about mothers and daughters, star-crossed lovers, doctrines of the divine, and a colorful Jewish community that once defined Brooklyn. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780060520878

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