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.