You don’t have to be Jewish or from the Bronx to be drawn into the family dynamic in this coming-of-age story opening in 1947. Jerome Kass deftly presents a dysfunctional but familiar family, complete with bad marriage, sibling rivalry, and economic strife. Add to this the trials and tribulations of emerging teenagers, and in time, many of life’s possible traumas.
We take this journey with Joel, a kind, naturally loving, and industrious kid. He somehow navigates the treacherous road between his dishonest, gambling dad; frazzled mom; jealous, angry older sister Fanny, and adored younger sister, Gloria, of questionable DNA.
Love is the elusive prize in these stories. Measured, offered, accepted, tossed away, or so deeply buried it disappears. Listen in. Gloria, turning sixteen, is forever taunted by Fanny about who her real father is. She tells Joel, who says, “She’s still teasing you about that? My God, when is she going to grow up?” And Gloria answers, “Sometimes I think she’s crazy.” “She is,” said Joel, furious. “And mean.” Gloria comes back with, “I told her she wouldn’t say things like that if she wasn’t jealous of me. I said, ‘Maybe if you weren’t so mean, Mommy and Daddy and Joel would love you as much as they love me.’” This thread continues right to the death bed. “I never loved anyone,” said Fanny. “I have no love in me. I don’t even know what love is. You have to be loved to know love.”
This is the first work of fiction for Kass, acclaimed writer for stage and screen. The episodes of Joel’s life read like a collection of scenes headed for production. With each story we wonder, with some amount of empathy, about the long term effects of such family life. Surely many have made it through, with great success. Give Joel an ear, see how you feel!