The Can­tor’s Daugh­ter: Stories

Scott Nadel­son
  • Review
By – May 25, 2012

In this new col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Scott Nadel­son returns to famil­iar ground — the sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties of New Jer­sey where Jews have migrat­ed and assim­i­lat­ed. The emo­tion­al land­scape here is one of lone­li­ness and alien­ation played out in both the major and minor char­ac­ters of each story. 

In the title sto­ry, The Cantor’s Daugh­ter,” father and daugh­ter are sep­a­rat­ed by un-rec­on­ciled grief over a mother’s death. The teenage daugh­ter rejects God and Jew­ish rit­u­al as part of her repressed anger and hurt over the unspo­ken words that lie heavy between them. 

The unspo­ken, the unre­solved, the path not cho­sen are famil­iar themes through­out each of the eight sto­ries. The char­ac­ters are par­a­lyzed by an inabil­i­ty to con­nect to each oth­er or the larg­er world around them. The Judaism of their par­ents has been lost in the sub­ur­ban malaise in which they find them­selves. Sub­ur­bia beck­ons as a place of mate­r­i­al com­fort or a sym­bol of suc­cess and instead becomes an island of loneliness. 

Each sto­ry is heart­break­ing in its hon­est exam­i­na­tion of the flaws with­in the human soul. In Rehearsal,” the main char­ac­ter sees the super­fi­cial­i­ty and hypocrisy of his fam­i­ly and wife-to-be, but is unable to break away, afraid of a greater lone­li­ness with­out them. 

The final and longest sto­ry, The Head­hunter,” is told in flash­backs and depicts the cre­ation and destruc­tion of a friend­ship built on frag­ile begin­nings. Howard Rifkin and Len Siegel are use­ful to each oth­er, and when that use­ful­ness is put to the test, their friend­ship disintegrates. 

Each of the sto­ries explores the frail­ties of the human con­di­tion in straight­for­ward prose which, while sim­ply told, dis­play the com­plex­i­ties and tragedies of mod­ern relationships.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

Discussion Questions