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An Almost Perfect Moment


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About the Author

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of An Almost Perfect Moment, On Mermaid Avenue, A Disturbance in One Place, Pure Poetry, Hester Among the Ruins, and History on a Personal Note. She is a professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she is chair of the Graduate Writing Program.


Kirshenbaum follows up Hester Among the Ruins, a meditation on the Holocaust, with this fable of Valentine Kessler (named so because she was born on Valentine's Day). A nice Jewish girl growing up in late-1970s Brooklyn, she becomes infatuated with her Polish American math teacher and with the Virgin Mary, for she mysteriously resembles the vision of Mary seen by Bernadette of Lourdes. Valentine's father left when she was a baby, and ever since her mother, Miriam, indulges her beautiful, newly withdrawn daughter while eating herself into obesity and playing mah-jongg every afternoon with her buddies. The so-called Girls are like a Greek chorus, commenting on life around them and wondering at Valentine's inspired silence. As the story unfolds, it becomes a Jewish tale wrapped in Catholic mystery-ultimately, readers are not privy to the rationale behind Valentine's inexplicable behavior as student, daughter, lover, or repentant. Kirshenbaum finely draws many lonely and long-suffering characters, e.g., John Wosileski, the math teacher, and Joanne Clark, the biology teacher out to woo him. Bursting with hyperbole, this is a hilarious and uncanny snapshot of a bygone era. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Columbia University fiction professor Kirshenbaum (Hester Among the Ruins) mixes biblical lore with Brooklyn culture in her latest novel, a tragicomic tale of mah-jongg, thwarted love and the mysteries of faith in 1970s Carnarsie. Valentine Kessler, a lovely, slightly spacey Jewish teenager who's "the spitting image of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes," is the book's enigmatic center. Around her swirl the shifting allegiances of high school friendships, the neighbors ("The Girls") with whom her mother trades gossip and mah-jongg tiles, and the increasingly desperate lives of two of her high school teachers, John Wosileski and Joanne Clarke. While cold, disappointed Joanne, who's got her eye on John, sabotages her chances at love, John, who privately aches for Valentine, succumbs to inertia, exhausted by the "thought of rallying" against life's challenges. Kirshenbaum's rendering of these two allows for painfully funny insights, but tenderhearted readers may wish their lives were a little less miserable. Much more fun are "The Girls," four middle-aged housewives. From Judy Weinstein, the queen of gold lam?, to Valentine's obese mother, Miriam, who substitutes food for passion, they are vibrant and warm ("Girls. Girls. Are we gabbing or are we playing?"). Kirshenbaum's narrative style is a little restless, relying more on clever snapshots than fleshed out scenes, as she jumps from one character's perspective to the next. But she gracefully mixes comic takes on familiar domestic scenes with the poignant story of Valentine, who wants to be the Blessed Virgin but also to experience sexual pleasure. Complications and heartache abound, but they're mitigated by Kirshenbaum's humane humor and sly wit. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. (Feb. 10) Forecast: Kirshenbaum's novel follows on the heels of several other miracle tales (most notably David Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest). Some readers may suffer from apparition fatigue, but New Yorkers in particular will appreciate Kirshenbaum's resolutely Brooklynesque brand of humor. Five-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"A quicksilver fable... at once ironic and mystical, tender and edgy, loaded with shtick and downright subversive." -- Booklist (Starred review)"Lays bare [a] collection of Brooklyn souls in the... style of short story masters Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie." -- Boston Herald"Kirshenbaum...has an original voice and, even better, an original sensibility." -- Los Angeles Times"[A] zany, irreverent, cheerful novel.... Bristles with energy and sharpness." -- Boston Globe"Engrossing.... Cinematic, effortlessly beautiful descriptions will spark the reader's imagination, and myriad plot twists and turns will keep you guessing." -- Chicago Tribune

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