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The Agnostics (Michigan Literary Fiction Awards) Hardcover – August 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rawlings (Come Back Irish) follows the Wirth family from 1960s Long Island through a generation of transformations and shattered expectations. Bev "Binky" Cohen, a Jewish beauty à la Natalie Wood, marries high-school classmate Stephen Wirth, a mechanical engineer whose parents have a silent disdain for Jews. Bev cares for daughters Louise and Deborah, and gradually develops a career counseling women. As her body changes along with the times, Bev begins questioning gender and sex roles-with a predictable effect on the marriage-while Louise and Deborah have very different reactions to adolescence and beyond. Stephen's attempts to bring religion to what has been a Switzerland-like familial agnosticism marks the novel's turning point. Rawlings writes with vivid sensuousness and a palpable sense of purpose in throwing curveballs at her familiar characters. The result is a probing investigation into the unbearable lovelessness of modern life, and an attendant search for certainty.
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"Rawlings writes with vivid sensuousness and a palpable sense of purpose in throwing curveballs at her familiar characters. The result is a probing investigation into the unbearable lovelessness of modern life, and an attendant search for certainty."
---Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Series: Michigan Literary Fiction Awards
  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press (August 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472116258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472116256
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,434,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paki Myers on July 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know this was based on a true story, so I can't fault that. I like complete sentences, all with noun and verb, stc., and so am not as comfortable with creative writing. But it was engrossing.
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Format: Hardcover
Wonderful! This chronicle of a Long Island family from the early 1960s through the 1990s is beautifully written, smart, funny, and very moving. Stephen Wirth is from old WASP stock and Bev Cohen is a Jew, but (like many educated, bohemian-leaning young marrieds in the 1960s) neither of them find much relevance in religion. They raise their two daughters, Louise and Deborah, with what they believe is straight, unmystified talk about life and death and the ways of the world. But things get trickier when Bev gets romantically involved first with one and then another woman and the marriage totters. Louise and Deborah realize that even without God there are mysteries, and they must figure out for themselves how to define terms such as "family," "self," and "love." In her Acknowledgements, Rawlings mentions being influenced by the work of James Salter, and The Agnostics indeed has Salter's muscular narrator, lyricism, sly wit, and sometimes-melancholy, sometimes-joyous preoccupation with the changes wrought by the passage of time.
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Format: Hardcover
With complex, compelling characters fleshed out by connections to experiences in her own past, Wendy Rawlings's The Agnostics ranks among the most unique contemporary fiction I've read to date. While the novel lacks a conventional plot (setting, suspense, crisis, climax, denouement- as nearly every chapter engenders a small crisis of some sort, often, as the title might suggest, a crisis of belief), the story holds together through the strength of Rawlings's characterizations. Her style is extraordinarily sensory, almost tactile, in the detail paid to the colors, shapes, sizes, and feel of the little things that make up a person's daily life. In the words of one of her own characters, life is, after all, "only an episodic shape. There was no grand arc, any more than The Mary Tyler Moore Show had a grand arc." It may not appeal to our desire for the epic, but it's amalgamation of the ordinary and the divine (or lack thereof- "Who knows if there's a God?" one of her protagonists muses) is remarkably true to life.
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By David Lenson on January 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
How you manage to write a forty-year family chronicle in less than 794 pages is quite an achievement in itself, and I keep asking myself how you did it. Part of the answer is the way you handle the political and cultural history of the times without stopping the action and expostulating. It's that old Emersonian kind of history at its best -- all that matters are the way events affect the characters, i.e. history is lived by people, not statistics and politicians. Another way to see is that you have the vital but least celebrated gift of the best novelists: knowing what to leave out. The beneficiaries are your characters, all so live, vivid, memorable. Each seems to be confronted with at least one stereotype like Dyke, Bulimic, Suburbanite. But each transcends that pigeonhole to become poignantly alive, agnostic such that even cliches cannot save them. Joan is the most startling example; I didn't expect to wind up sympathizing with her so completely. And what an ending!
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Format: Hardcover
A tenderly crafted slice-of-life tale, "The Agnostics" tells the story of the Wirths, a coastal Long Island family in the 1970s. The novel begins with Stephen and Bev's marriage and follows the family through the birth and growth of their two daughters, Louise and Deborah. Along the way, Rawlings chronicles the family's struggle to come to terms with many problems, including Bev's romantic trysts with other women, Stephen's feelings of impotence and squandered potential, the Wirths' divorce, one daughter's anorexia, and the other emotionally abandoning her mother. Rawlings also delves into the effects that being raised without religion may have on children, treating the subject with such care and depth that it is evident that she speaks from her own experiences on the topic. At once both jarringly blunt and intriguingly subtle, this novel explores the true meaning of family, spirituality, and humanity in a world where emotional isolation is the norm.
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By Aglo on December 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wendy Rawlings novel is a beautifully rendered tale of love and loss--of a family's deep connection to one another and the events that fractured their bond. The family in Rawlings story must cope with the mother's need to move in a disparate direction. While some members acclimate to the change better than others--each character illuminates a different response. The reader may recognize the feelings that the characters grapple with in the story. It's fascinating to watch the tale unfold; we are given a chance to see what happens when we choose (or not) to accept our loved ones.
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