From Publishers Weekly
Known for her witty stories (The Rabbi in the Attic and Other Stories), Pollack's first novel recounts the coming-of-age of assertive 19-year-old Lucy Appelbaum, who drops out of college to run her parents' decaying Borscht Belt hotel in the Catskills and falls in love with the hotel's African American handyman, proud, fastidious Thomas Jefferson. Though warmly observed, the novel is a disappointment, a well-intentioned but inert multicultural extravaganza in which the characters are mere props for Pollack to explore her abiding themes: the search for Jewish identity, the rift between generations, tolerance, the Holocaust. Jefferson?who reads Spinoza and Confucius, translates psalms from Hebrew and debates Talmud with Nazi death-camp survivor Shirley Feidel?is a saintly figure. After Lucy's racist grandmother forces him out of the Eden Hotel, he buys a nearby bungalow colony with the goal of transforming it into a new Monticello, repository of the wisdom of the world's great philosophers and mystics. Into the ethnic, religious and sexual melting pot Pollack throws a fraudulent Hasid; a gay chef and his lover who are into gourmet Jewish cooking; an evil homophobic twin; a cell of elderly Communists who incite the hotel's Puerto Rican and Vietnamese employees to picket; Lucy's assimilated brother, who's afraid of looking "too Jewish"; the brother's irascible Quaker wife; and a slick Irish-Catholic insurance adjuster who has sex with Lucy in a linen closet. Although Lucy's concern for the family business gives the novel moving passages, the rest is an unholy goulash of good intentions gone awry.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
From the author of the story collection The Rabbi in the Attic (1991), a finely crafted, if underpowered, first novel detailing the journey to wisdom of a young woman who grew up in a Borscht Belt hotel. With messages not writ too largethough with enough signifiers hinting at their presencePollacks tale focuses on narrator Lucy Appelbaum, who lives in a Catskills hotel called the Garden of Eden, near a town called Paradise. Her expulsion leads to wisdom. Growing up, Lucy enjoys a close-knit Jewish world; the friendship of Thomas Jefferson, a self-taught black handyman; and a sense of being special lost only when she leaves for college. In reality, Eden isnt entirely flawless: Lucy's grandmother, disappointed by her life, refuses to improve the place; the food is stodgy, uninspired; the decor shabby; the entertainment increasingly third-rate. And, the guests (aging Communists, Yiddish-speaking families, and a couple who survived the Holocaust) arent getting any younger. Lucy's parents want to sell the hotel, but her grandmother doesn't, so Lucy decides to drop out of college to run it. In the year that follows, she restores the hotel; employs two gay kosher chefs; and dismisses Thomas, though realizing she loves him. When her unintended negligence causes the death of a popular guest, and when the hotel later burns downin a fire that symbolizes what Lucy must lose before she really gains wisdomshe finally has to leave Paradise and head out into the world. There, though a reunion with Thomas fails, she begins to ``understand that the only true refuge for a person in pain is in another's heart.'' An accomplished mix of profundity and wit thats undercut by characters and a story more like talking points than fully-fledged aspects of a novel. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.