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.