Instead of a bar mitzvah Alexander Popper, henceforth known as Popper, has, as a certain group of young men do, the traditional “chat” with Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, long time Chicago insider. At the conclusion of their meeting, when the judge asks Popper about Moses and the end of his life, Popper gives the much rehearsed, perhaps controversial, but expected answer, “Moses died alone. No family, no friends. Nobody even knows exactly where he is buried. An angry God isn’t much of a friend, Your Honor, and everybody needs friends.” Thus begins the tale of three generations of the Popper family– their lives, their loves, and their shames. Orner’s novel is also a story of Chicago– the lake, the weather, and its longstanding political profile.
Popper’s coming of age is all wrapped up with the dilemma of whom to keep as “friends” and whom to leave behind. As each family member’s story grows more complicated, it is clear that no one is all good and no one is all bad. While we know this, Popper’s emotional journey is worth taking.
Peter Orner employs great craft in exploring the intricacies of love and family, inter-generational histories and loyalties. Traveling back and forth in time we try to assemble the jigsaw of the Poppers and the glue that holds them together. We are at once relating to the familiar twentieth century social and political mores and at the same time into the new century, and curious about what the future may or may not hold for this very familiar demographic.