The Lost Family, by Jenna Blum

36341202In The Lost Family, by Jenna Blum, I saw a family shaped by unspoken disappointment and selfishness. In this mostly quiet novel that jumps from character to character and time to time, we watch the Rashkins struggle to be a family in spite of their collective inability to articulate what they want and failure to speak up for themselves. This novel is the kind of book that demands close attention. On the surface is the plot, of course. Just underneath are a host of (mostly) unspoken pressures that push the three protagonists out of shape. Those unspoken pressures are fascinating to watch while waiting for the moment when the family has to break or heal.

The Lost Family opens in 1965 with Peter Rashkin. Peter is a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and twin daughters in 1943. Now, he lives a lonely life as a chef who rarely leaves the restaurant named for his wife. On the night the novel opens, Peter meets June. June is an aspiring model with an eating disorder. They’re attracted to each other, but they don’t seem quite right as a couple. Peter is still mourning and wrestling with survivor’s guilt. June wants to have a career, to make something of herself like none of the other women back in her little Minnesota town ever did. But they bow to expectations. The widower marries the model when June becomes pregnant.

The section set in 1975 is narrated by June, now Mrs. Rashkin. She is an unhappy housewife who frets about her lack of maternal feeling towards their daughter, Elsbeth. Peter and his set are very much of another generation and June is lonely in their midst. Whenever she hints at her dissatisfaction, her in-laws or her doctor or whoever either seems baffled by June’s desire to restart her career. So, when June actually meets a man who seems to understand what she wants, she starts a passionate affair.

The last section is set in 1985 and is narrated by Elsbeth. Elsbeth has grown up with two unhappy people and seems doomed to be unhappy herself. I think this section was the saddest, perhaps because I found it especially heartbreaking to see a young girl develop her own eating disorder and throw herself at the only person who shows her a bit of affection.

The Rashkin family inheritance seems to consist entirely of sorrow. And, maybe because of the societies they grew up in, none of these characters seems willing to break free of the relationships that are holding them back. Peter is held back by his appallingly stereotypical relatives. (Seriously, Peter’s cousins seem like American Jews straight out of mid-Twentieth century casting.) June is held back by her husband. Elsbeth is held back by her parents. This book has the potential to be hugely depressing for a lot of readers. However, readers who are looking for an interesting psychological portrait of a family (and who can deal with the stereotypes), might enjoy The Lost Family.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 5 June 2018.

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