Blaustein’s Kiss

Judith Felsen­feld
  • Review
By – December 5, 2014

Accord­ing to Bette Davis, Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” and the book Blaus­tein’s Kiss explains why in great detail. The humil­i­a­tions, indig­ni­ties, and sad real­i­ties of dete­ri­o­rat­ing bod­ies, minds, and rela­tion­ships are pin­point­ed pre­cise­ly in this book of short sto­ries which are embed­ded in Jew­ish life. 

Shay­na Kupp,” the first sto­ry, relates the dra­ma of seder invi­ta­tions. Cousin Fran has been the fam­i­ly host­ess for years and Lau­ra, the main char­ac­ter, always makes the charos­es (a mix­ture of ground nuts and wine meant to resem­ble the mor­tar used by Pharaoh’s Jew­ish slaves between the bricks of the struc­ture they were told to build). Lau­ra refus­es the invi­ta­tion of her daugh­ter, Jessie, to fly out to the West Coast to attend her seder with her non-Jew­ish hus­band and her infant. Instead, she offers them a place at the usu­al seder held at her cousin Fran’s, but sud­den­ly real­izes that with­out them there she has no one she real­ly wants to sit near, that the tra­di­tion of going to the same person’s home for the seder every year is not as impor­tant as cel­e­brat­ing it with her daugh­ter. The sto­ry illus­trates the pow­er of tra­di­tion and how self-actu­al­iza­tion requires great effort in order to break from safe routines. 

In anoth­er two sto­ries, Felsen­feld explores the dif­fi­cult sub­ject of Alzheimer’s from the caretaker’s posi­tion. The Lover” explores the feel­ings of Julia, a daugh­ter vis­it­ing her Alzheimer’s‑afflicted moth­er in a care facil­i­ty. Her feel­ings vary from fear of spend­ing time with a moth­er who is vacant to joy at the real­ization that her moth­er, Sylvia, is in a relation­ship with anoth­er res­i­dent, George. How­ev­er, her over-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with her moth­er and con­stant watch­ful­ness (remind­ing her to put on ear­rings that George has fash­ioned for her although she has no rec­ol­lec­tion of them), caus­es her great pain, through­out. The unex­pect­ed loss of George and her mother’s for­get­ful reac­tion to it quite per­plex­es her. 

The title sto­ry, Blaustein’s Kiss,” explores Alzheimer’s patient Ben Blaustein’s inner thoughts. His lack of aware­ness of his actions is con­trast­ed to his crit­i­cal aware­ness of oth­ers. He is shown to be a high­ly intel­li­gent man, but blind to his own flawed behav­ior — as so many of us are. After he is over­ly roman­tic to Meryl, the daugh­ter of his recent­ly deceased, for­mer lover, Meryl’s con­scious­ness that takes over the sto­ry with a very sur­pris­ing ending. 

These sto­ries cap­ture the thoughts and the envi­ron­ments sur­round­ing the aging with rare hon­esty. Both the atti­tudes of the aged charac­ters and their clos­est rel­a­tives are care­ful­ly delin­eat­ed. The sto­ries are sad but illus­trate how aver­age peo­ple tend to pick up their lives where they left off after a major tragedy.

Eleanor Ehrenkranz received her Ph.D. from NYU and has taught at Stern Col­lege, NYU, Mer­cy Col­lege, and at Pace Uni­ver­si­ty. She has lec­tured wide­ly on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and recent­ly pub­lished anthol­o­gy of Jew­ish poet­ry, Explain­ing Life: The Wis­dom of Mod­ern Jew­ish Poet­ry, 1960 – 2010.

Discussion Questions