Swell: A Novel

  • Review
By – August 18, 2017

After 9/11, Dan and Sue Glass­man uproot their fam­i­ly and move from Man­hat­tan to a home in Rock­away Beach. But there’s a catch: Dan’s father, Sy, will only pay for this house if Sue agrees to con­vert to Judaism before the third Glass­man child is born. Sue’s con­ver­sion adds a lev­el of depth to this nov­el, as she con­tem­plates her reli­gious iden­ti­ty as well as her rela­tion­ship with her hus­band. Sue’s con­ver­sion is at first forced upon her by her father-in-law. Yet as the nov­el pro­gress­es, read­ers see a tran­si­tion in Sue’s out­look on Judaism – first, act­ing the part of Super Jew to scare her hus­band, then resent­ing her hus­band for mak­ing her change her reli­gion and final­ly accept­ing her new­found iden­ti­ty as some­thing more than just the steep price for her beloved beachhouse.

Swell is a relat­able sto­ry of a dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly in the after­math of 9/11. The nov­el seam­less­ly alter­nates being nar­rat­ed by Sue Glass­man, the family’s preg­nant and soon-to-be-Jew­ish moth­er to Dan, her pushover hus­band and to June, their angst rid­den teenage daugh­ter. As each Glass­man is giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak for him or her­self, this style of nar­ra­tion allows read­ers to see the inner-work­ings of the minds of each char­ac­ter – caus­ing this oth­er­wise light heart­ed sto­ry to become a social com­men­tary of sorts. Eisen­stadt delves into the thoughts of each fam­i­ly mem­ber in a way that a third per­son nar­ra­tor nev­er could have.

When the Glass­mans arrive in Rock­away, they meet the novel’s quirki­est (and fun­ni­est) char­ac­ter, Rose. Nine­ty-year-old Rose is the house’s pre­vi­ous own­er – and she wants it back. The Glassman’s neigh­bor Tim, a recov­er­ing alco­holic and retired fire­fight­er is the only per­son who knows that Rose killed her son years ago in the very house that she’s so reluc­tant to leave. These eccen­tric char­ac­ters bring a lev­el of enter­tain­ment and humor that will keep read­ers hooked.

Katie Brown was a Jew­ish Book Coun­cil intern in sum­mer 2017 and is a sopho­more con­cen­trat­ing in Eng­lish and French at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty. She is from Char­lotte, NC.

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