Monday, March 21, 2016

The Two Family House

Title:  The Two Family House
Author:  Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250076927 / 978-1250076922

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "She walked down the stairs of the old two-family house in the dark, careful not to slip."

Favorite Quote:  "We always think our own grief is the worst - worse than everybody else's. But the truth is, we never know for sure what the people around us are feeling. I have had some bad things happen, but then a lot of wonderful things happened to me, too. An awful thing happened to you yesterday. But you mustn't let it ruin the happiness that lies ahead for you, dear."

In 1940s New York City, two brothers, Abe and Mort, link their life together. They work together, as co-owners of a family business although one perhaps would have chosen a different path. They happily live in two portions of the same house. They marry women, Helen and Rose, who become the best of friends. The start families at the same time.

In that, differences begin to arise. One brother becomes a father to four boys. The other brother fathers three girls. One mother wishes for a daughter to balance the tempest that are her boys. The other mother feels the burden of not having given her husband a son, no heir to carry on his name. Cracks exist in the seemingly peaceful and loving togetherness of these two families. Stereotypes? Absolutely. Realistic? Completely especially given the 1940s - 1950s culture that is the setting for this book.

Then, one final chance presents itself. Both women find themselves pregnant. A stormy night finds the two husbands away and the two women in labor. Two children are born minutes apart on that same night - a boy and girl. The mother with four boys gets its girl, and the mother with all daughters claims a son. Life continues happily at least on the surface. Yet, the cracks in the households, particularly in the friendship between the two women, deepen as the years pass.

Why? As a reader, I am pretty sure I know why, but I am still swept away in the ramifications of one decision that lead to both joy and immeasurable sadness. The power of this book is not in discovering what happened that night. That is not really a mystery. The power is in the ripples that decision causes for the individual characters and the changes it brings in their day to day lives and their relationships. A woman becomes a mother to two children even though only one is hers. A mother sinks into grief and depression with thoughts of what she has done. A man with old-fashioned, orthodox ideas about boys and girls learns to break stereotypes. This becomes a book about parenting - the love, the guilt, the joy, the sadness. It becomes also about our children's capacity to change us forever, and the different ways that manifests itself in different people.

This book has a very insular feel to it; it is completely and absolutely about this family. The world outside seems to recede far away as the reader is pulled into the world of this family. The story is told in chapters that alternate between the voices of Abe, Mort, Helen, Rose, Judith, and Natalie, one of the two children born on that night. That seems like a lot of narrators, but in this case, it works. Nowhere does the story lose continuity, and nowhere do I find myself checking to see who is telling the story. It just works. All the narrators are believable, and all make me care about this family.

I race through this book in a day, completely absorbed in the characters and story. Even though the book does not lend itself to a sequel, I want one just to know what happens to these characters. They become real, which perhaps is the best recommendation I can give for a book.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

3 comments:

  1. Would you say this book reminded you at all of The Memory Keeper's Daughter? I'm thinking the premise is sort of similar...

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    1. Mia, Thank you for reminding me of The Memory Keeper's Daughter - another beautiful book. It's from my pre-blog days so I have no written reminder of my thoughts right after I read it, but the story has stayed with me as, I am sure, The Two-Family House will. Both books touched my heart with emotions and characters that feel real, and yes, both have a similar premise - one decision on a stormy night with life altering effects. Have you read both? What did you think?

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