Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter
In the spring issue of Jewish Book World, Deborah Schoeneman offered the following review of Babette Hughes’s The Hat (Sunstone Press):
"Ben Gold has a regular morning routine, one that varies slightly on this significant morning, his last morning. The opening chapter then transitions backward to the young adult world of Kate Brady, who has just been laid off from her job at a local Cleveland, Ohio bakery in the 1930’s. During this time when the economy is devastated by the Depression, she feels hopeless, humiliated, and confined because of her mother’s alcoholic scenes and their poverty. When she first meets Ben, she can’t believe he would be attracted to her with her dowdy clothes and dysfunctional family life. But Kate soon realizes Ben is her passport out of her dire circumstances.
Marriage quickly follows a passionate yet pure courtship. Faint suspicions run through Kate’s head but are ignored until a devastating loss. Asking questions, threatening to leave because of what she senses are lies about something obviously dangerous and illegal, Kate forces the issue. Now she knows too much and begins to form a bond with one of Ben’s “business” partners who is assigned to watch her at all times. An attempt to escape from this world, a secret relationship, and what follows produces not one but two startling events for which the reader is totally unprepared. Ben’s father was a devout Jewish man whom Ben condemns, but the remainder of this novel begs the question of who is to be condemned. This is a terrific story that chronicles the beginning of the Mafia and its revelations that profoundly changed lives forever."As a part of Babette’s virtual tour, JBC is pleased to offer an excerpt from The Hat:
We spent our wedding night in the bridal suite. Ben swung open the door; there were huge vases of white, long-stemmed roses everywhere–on the end tables, the coffee table, the bureaus –even on the floor. They smelled oppressive to me, excessive and ominous, the aroma of grand funerals. On the big turned-back bed a white satin nightgown was spread out that looked to me like the gown of Aphrodite as she sprang from the foam of the sea.
Music drifted through the rooms from a radio somewhere as Ben popped open more champagne and poured it, pale and shimmering, into our glasses. We toasted our future and sipped. Then, as if silently cued from backstage, a waiter wheeled in a cart bearing silver-domed plates of foods I had never seen before. For years I could not hear certain songs or taste certain foods without the same mix of excitement and unaccountable uneasiness that I felt that night for my hours-old marriage.
“Some day he’ll come along, the man I love,” the radio sang, as I dipped the delicate poached salmon, pink and cold, into the queer-tasting caviar sauce. Afterwards, “My Melancholy Baby” always made me think of the moist, tender squab and firm gray-brown granules of gamey wild rice tucked inside. Dessert was Peach Melba served in high-stemmed goblets. We ate and sipped champagne and I felt each strange new taste and texture on my tongue, in my nose, my mouth, as it passed my throat. We spoke little, as if words had no place in such rooms sensuous with exotic flavors, love songs, the thick scent of roses, and a gown on the bed for a love goddess. Ben kept my glass filled with champagne and between courses pulled me to my feet to dance, holding me close, humming off-key in my ear.
Later, I was as nervous and ignorant as any eighteen-year-old virgin in spite of all the reading I had done–including what was then called a Marriage Manual that spoke of simultaneous orgasms and had alarming illustrations of the erect male organ. That night in the big bed my passion abandoned me and I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about–why Anna Karenina gave up her son, her country, and even her life, or why Emma Bovary allowed her obsessions to cause her own ruin and death. But the problem wasn’t Ben’s lovemaking. The truth is that my father’s Catholicism I thought I left behind, had returned, unbidden, to find myself still unmarried in the eyes of the church. And although I had long since given up both my mother’s Judaism and father’s Catholicism, there were times that I believed the events that followed were my punishment for the sin of fornication.
Interested in more? Check out the book.