• Review
By – January 9, 2012

Rebec­ca Rosen­blum is an enchant­i­ng new author who has a rare tal­ent in that you don’t want her sto­ries to end. She leaves you always want­i­ng to know more about the work­ing class lives who inhab­it her sto­ries. It’s as if the vignettes John Sloan, George Luks, George Bel­lows, and Everett Shinn’s ash­can paint­ings came to life in mod­ern clothing. 

The harsh real­i­ty of a girl who works in a fac­to­ry is clear­ly illu­mi­nat­ed in the sto­ry called Fruit Fac­to­ry

I wake up and it’s dark. When I pull the 

alarm clock towards me to stop 

it scream­ing, my fin­gers turn green 

in the glow from the 4:30. I kick off 

the sheets and stand up before I can 


I step into the crum­pled fig­ure eight 

of yesterday’s jeans and 

pull them up over the underwear 

I’ve already got on…I have enough 


to wash my face and drink a glass of 

juice today before I get the 4:49 bus 

to work. This is Monday. 

Six days a week this rou­tine is repeat­ed. And every dif­fer­ent co-worker’s exhi­bi­tion of unhap­pi­ness at the fac­to­ry is giv­en a detailed analy­sis as well. The future, as well as the present, looks bleak, but the main character’s abil­i­ty to endure is remarkable. 

In Linh Lai, the con­flict between a young Viet­namese girl’s fan­ta­sy life and real­i­ty results in a trag­ic occur­rence. She has been required to leave her home and fam­i­ly and fin­ish high school in Toron­to in order to learn Eng­lish quick­ly and become suc­cess­ful. Her Uncle Steve, with whom she lives, names her Jin­ny. She does what she is told and finds a part-time job in a Viet­namese restau­rant named Pho-Mi 99 after her third week in Toron­to. In her spare time, she watch­es Chi­nese fan­tasies about men who can fly side­ways” and The Matrix in which a man runs up a wall. She prac­tices doing these things in her room. Her need is to feel the pow­er of her body doing spec­tac­u­lar things as an anti­dote to her help­less­ness in the monot­o­ny of her life. And so she tries to live out her fan­ta­sy on a new­ly-bor­rowed skate­board with painful results which may or may not be per­ma­nent. The rela­tion­ship of an inept, inar­tic­u­late but per­cep­tive father and his uncom­mu­nica­tive, rage-filled daugh­ter is relat­ed with all the pain they both feel very sharply in The Words. In wait­ing for her to come home, Colleen’s father thinks about her body lan­guage: She didn’t say what made her unhap­py, or even that she was. But no one moved that fast, turned that sharply, with any joy.” He seems unable to ame­lio­rate her rage about his call­ing her Col­lie instead of Colleen. But after she is arrest­ed for writ­ing words that sound­ed good…words that God would use” on a bath­room wall, he asks her, Did you write your name?’ It is a poignant end­ing. And most of the sto­ries in Once reach into the raw, inner selves of char­ac­ters who touch us because they know there is a bet­ter life out there some­where but don’t know how to find it.

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.

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