Allegra Goodman...The Family Markowitz, Synopsis, Description, Reviews, Quotes, Links, Excerpt

Allegra Goodman

The Family Markowitz

The Family Markowitz was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 1996 and was the fiction winner in the First Annual Salon Book Awards.


From Ingram:

In this book, Goodman writes with charm and compassion about three generations of Markowitzes making their way in America. Through extraordinary crises and ordinary rituals, they assert their love and independence, and never fail to speak their minds.

"Allegra Goodman writes circles around most other young writers by not writing circles around them. Her unfussy, matter-of-fact style borrows from Grace Paley and Philip Roth, but in "The Family Markowitz," her new collection of linked short stories, Goodman sounds like nobody else. You move through these smart and slyly funny stories -- about a cerebral and squabbling extended Jewish family -- with an increasing appreciation of her deep-seated talent. It's bad form to quote blurbs from book-flaps, but Cynthia Ozick gets it exactly right about Goodman: 'All the muse-fairies were present at her birth'.

"Goodman has a gift that's inherent in many comic writers -- the ability to pull together an intimate but far-flung group of people (in this case, a family of failed intellectuals, cranky matriarchs and religiously obsessive children) and stand back while they annoy the hell out of each other. What's refreshing about Goodman, however, is that she doesn't settle for easy riffs and cheap ironies. While there is plenty of nicely grouchy humor here (one character complains that his brother has spent endless years in therapy only to develop "the most complicated persona possible -- the expatriate Brooklyn Jew in Oxford"), Goodman's prose has a steady, silent reserve that always indicates she has bigger things on her mind.

Most of the tension in "The Family Markowitz" is supplied by Goodman's interest in the clash between orthodoxy (religious, academic, you name it) and modern liberalizing impulses. Thus, two brothers maintain a running, and often hilarious, dialogue on modern scholarship. One brother rejects the other's political and sexual analyses of books because, 'For Henry, reading had always been a gentle thing, a thing as delicate as blowing eggs. Two pinpricks and the meaning came, whole, unbroken, into the bowl.' And in a moving story called 'The Four Questions,' about a ritual Passover dinner, a father wonders what he did to make his young daughter so conservative and angry. Goodman's one previous book, a collection titled 'Total Immersion,' appeared nearly eight years ago, in 1989. 'The Family Markowitz' is a revelation, and more than worth the wait."

~Dwight Garner, Salon

Dwight Garner is Salon's book review editor.

Stamford Magazine

"Goodman published her first book of short stories when she was a 21-year-old Harvard senior. Now 29, she has written a collection of 10 interwoven tales about three generations of an archetypal Jewish-American family. The book spans 15 years in the lives of Rose, cantankerous matriarch of the Markowitz family, her two sons, Ed and Henry, and Ed's daughter, Miriam. With an ear for dialogue and an eye for detail, Goodman deftly sketches the rituals of family life--weddings, hospital vigils, holiday dinner squabbles. Rose overdoses on Percodan, Ed battles the indignities of scholarly life, and Miriam unexpectedly embraces orthodox Judaism. Goodman's stories, most of which were first published in The New Yorker or Commentary, touch on a sometimes-tense reality in Jewish America: While the children of East European immigrants have successfully assimilated, many of the grandchildren seek a more Old-World religious life."

Through Life and Strife, The Tales of a Family

"Rose, the Markowitz family matriarch, comes to visit her son's family in Washington and asks her daughter-in-law for something to read. ''I like any kind of novel, not too sad,'' she says. ''About a family -- with some romance. But well written. It must be well written.'' A perfect book for Rose might be ''The Family Markowitz,'' by Allegra Goodman. Less a real novel than a series of interlinked stories (many of which originally appeared in The New Yorker and Commentary), ''The Family Markowitz'' is everything Rose described and more: it's about family and romance and the emotions that bond (and sometimes bind) brothers and sons, husbands and wives, parents and their children. It is also exceptionally well-written: funny and wise and keenly observed, a book that builds upon the considerable achievement of Ms. Goodman's first book of stories, the 1989 ''Total Immersion,'' and ratifies this 29-year-old writer's impressive talents."

Read Michiko Kakutani's NY Times review here.

The Autumn of the Matriarch

"....The stories span more than a decade in the progress of the Markowitz clan. 'Fannie Mae,' the first in the collection, shows us Rose in her early 70's, facing the death of her second husband, Maury, whose long-estranged daughter suddenly appears from Israel to cast a pall over his final days: 'If she had come to bring some good cheer, it would be one thing. If she had come to help. But weeping and complaining is all she does. And she snoops, Rose is sure of it.'"

Claire Messud's NY Times review here.

Similes from The Family Markowitz

p.14 - "...this foreboding like a faint but undeniable smell, mildew in a sponge."

p.40 - "Soon his headache will unfold like a pale night-blooming flower."

p.73 - "...a waterfall like a thread into an oasis..."

p.76 - "For Henry, reading had always been a gentle thing, a thing as delicate as blowing eggs."

p.79 - "...the stained glass in Corpus Christi like the last glowing embers of a fire, the last opalescent, bluest flame.

p.221 - "She still finds it strange that even Henry, who loves Victorian furniture, 18th-century books and bindings, antique china...he who, as a person, is almost baroque -- nevertheless admires poems that are sleek, smooth, minimalist, functioning like state-of-the-art appliances."

p.230 - "She has pined to have a literary career, to have her work discovered by the world. This has been her dream since her school days, when she discovered John Donne and felt suddenly and secretly clever, as if, like a safecracker, she could find the puns and hidden springs in his poetry."

~Allegra Goodman, "The Family Markowitz", 1996

Read Chapter One