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Like Never Before Hardcover – September 1, 1998


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Hand Reached Down to Guide Me by David Gates
Hand Reached Down to Guide Me by David Gates
Relentlessly inventive, alternately hilarious and tragic, always moving, these stories and a novella prove yet again that David Gates is one of our most talented, witty and emotionally intelligent writers. Learn more | See similar books

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The 10 interrelated stories that make up Ehud Havazelet's Like Never Before revolve around one big, if not invariably happy, family. The author introduces us to the Birnbaum clan--Max and Ruth, and their children, David and Rachel--as well as an assortment of the people they love and hate and date and marry and divorce. Yet the central focus in this sprawl of relationships is that between father and son. Theirs is also the most troubled connection. Max is an immigrant, a true if sometimes desperate believer, while David, even as a youth, is "aggrieved, put upon, a boy who carries anger like a stone in his pocket to caress." Growing up in Queens in the 1960s, the rapidly assimilating David rebels against the heritage Max has transported so carefully from the Old World. Yet David's defiance brings him little joy. "David," Rachel says, "was a boy constantly on the edge, of laughter, of panic, of some unaccountable act of friendship or some meanness that would leave you stunned."

David is unsparingly drawn and quite miraculously lovable. However, all of the central figures are just as deeply realized--and Havazelet's frequently entertaining, frequently agonizing skill at presenting each as an alarming composite of beauty and ugliness gives this intensely realistic work what Annie Dillard once called a "broad and sanctifying vision." Near the end of her life, Ruth Birnbaum muses unhappily that "despite everyone's good intentions ... love hurts more than it heals." Havazelet's gift is to let us feel both how right and how wrong she is. --Daniel Hintzsche

From Publishers Weekly

"Any hardship in this world is easier to bear than a disappointing child," thinks Max Birnbaum, a character in the 10 interlinked stories that make up Havazelet's dazzlingly insightful and emotionally resonant second book, after the praised What Is It Then Between Us? The pain that parents and children cause each other is the theme that shadows three generations. Max is an old man when he makes his observation about the hardship of raising children who disappoint, and he should know, having retired from an undistinguished teaching career that disappointed his father, a famous and beloved rabbi, and having also witnessed the downward trajectory of his own son, David. It is David's story, in fact, that forms the gripping center of these poignant chronicles. After a difficult youth, David is a brilliant, rising but self-absorbed architect who loses his job, his marriage, his self-confidence and his future in one cataclysmic day. Havazelet brilliantly probes the sources of David's angst, from his abrasive, resentful, irascible personality to the stress of being caught between the Orthodox Jewish culture of his forebears and the lure of assimilation in the 1960s. One of the many jolts of surprise in these narratives is Havazelet's candid depiction of the offspring of strict Orthodox families succumbing to the lures of drugs, alcohol, shoplifting and promiscuous sex. Hardly pious yeshiva students, they behave like aspiring juvenile delinquents. The Birnbaum women, too, are caught in the crucible of cultural change. Ruth, Max's wife; Rachel, their daughter, and pious cousin Leah make their own accommodations to life's disappointments. The moods in these stories range from broadly comedic (echoes of Malamud) to nightmarishly tragic; each contains small detonations of surprise that turn commonplace events into milestones of loss, bitterness or tentative healing. Common to all of them is the elegant simplicity of Havazelet's prose, the grace and precision with which he captures the currents of love, misunderstanding, anger and yearning that reflect complex interior lives. Yet Havazelet imbues his work with the vitality of fully engaged, risk-taking characters and the tenderness of his compassionate observation. In his hands, this kaleidoscope of alternating narrators and shifted chronologies coalesces into a haunting family portrait. West Coast author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374187622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374187620
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,407,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable collection. "Lyon" is a subtle, lowkey story that captures the horror of the Holocaust in a single incident. The characters in this book ultimately provide a moving portrait of a Jewish family in the 1960s and thereafter.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
With only two collections out, Havazelet has quickly earned a place in my mind as a must read author. This series of related stories paints a painfully clear picture of a sometimes sad, sometimes humorous but always spectacular world of one 3 generations of a Jewish family. An accurate portrait of the struggles of culture and assimilation in America. The characters are so real you can feel their breath when you read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ary Freilich on March 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is unlike any I have read in recent years. It contexts individuals who are set against a modern, fairly dark background who are connnected, often negatively, with the traditions and history of their families (typically Europen Jewish immigrants from religious backgrounds). It is beautifully written, provides bite-size stories that are easily read and takes you away to places that are unusual.
Excellent!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Like all the best collections, this one's bigger than the sum of its parts. These are principally the stories of a man named Birnbaum and his son, David, a couple of emotional amputees struggling to grow new limbs. The process is fascinating, unsettling, funny and, in the end, moving. A great read, and one that lingers long after turning the last page. --A Reader in Fallbrook, California
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