The ProsenPeople

Returning to Where It All Began

Friday, April 03, 2015| Permalink

Earlier this week, Thane Rosenbaum gave us a little flashback to Miami Beach, 1972 and how E. L. Doctorow inspired his new novel How Sweet It Is! He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Nearly twenty years ago I published my first book, a novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible. It followed, in postmodern fashion, Adam Posner, a child of Holocaust survivors, who appeared throughout the book in different guises and geographic locations; even his age and occupations varied with each chapter. The story was not told in chronological order; the inversion of time and space, the fracturing of reality and imagination, were among the many contradictions that appeared with nearly every turn of page. The names of his parents were different with each story, too. The only constant was that, in each tale, they were soon to die, or were already dead.

The book received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Best Book of Jewish Fiction. Three other novels would follow. But I never got Adam Posner out of my head. For one thing, his story felt incomplete. There were other Adam Posner tales I wanted to tell; the nine chapters of Elijah Visible, a deliberate half of chai, was not enough. And since the chapters rolled out without logical coherence, the novel ended when Adam Posner was in kindergarten in Washington Heights, during a blizzard. The earlier chapters that depicted his manhood didn’t set up the story for such a stormy conclusion.

Two of the chapters stood out from the rest, however. In one, Adam Posner is a boy growing up in Miami Beach; in the other he is looking back on his childhood in Miami Beach. In both chapters the story was less about him than the more colorful and charismatic figures to whom he was exposed, and who cause him to rethink some of the assumptions he has made about his parents, their past, and the future that lay in store for the entire Posner family—provided they have the audacity to imagine a future at all.

Some of the reviews that the book received singled out these two Miami Beach tales—not just because of their scenic locale, but because the island city had a magical hold upon the Posner family. Miami Beach presented itself like a picture postcard, but behind the sunshine lurked cloud cover that revealed truths about the Posners that they were only haltingly willing to receive.

It was where the young Adam, the first man, observed the world in which he was born, and determined that despite all that had been lost, Miami Beach was a place where Jackie Gleason was right to proclaim, How Sweet It Is!

Thane Rosenbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, which received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish American fiction. His articles, reviews and essays appear frequently in many national publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. He is a Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. For more information visit http://www.thanerosenbaum.com/.

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