Who is your family? That question is the simmering center of this novel, begging the reader to question so much of what he or she believes. Is it just your immediate family — your siblings and your parents? Is it more than that — your cousins, your sisters-in-law, your aunt on your mother’s side? And if your family lies to you, betrays you — are they still your family? And if not, what are they? Who do they become to you?
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman is an outsider’s look into a world filled with tension and mistrust — and most of all, secrets. As we wait for the characters to figure out secrets the reader already knows, different questions become important. Who is the villain of this story? Is it the sweet but overbearing Helen, who always seems to know the right thing to do? Is it Rose, the quiet mother of three daughters who desperately wants a baby boy? Or is it Mort, the grudge-filled angry husband whom Rose can never please?
The interesting thing is that there is no good answer to that question. Loigman makes a compelling case that there is a bit of bad in all of us — and that one can be both the hero and the villain, if one lives long enough. Problems that were thought long buried shove their way into the center of the characters’ lives, no longer content to remain hidden. Unaddressed resentments and fears turn hard and thick as the years pass, turning loving wives into bitter enemies, showing just how far people can go to attain what they believe they need to be happy.
A cursory glance at the story will yield two families, living side by side in the same house in Brooklyn — one with three daughters, one with four sons. The families live together in somewhat harmoniously until one blizzard-filled night, when everything changes. The blizzard that shuts down the city that pivotal night is the only real witness to the schism. But as the book progresses, the reader learns that he was also a witness. He too, was a bystander.
The Two-Family House will make you question and make you angry — but mainly, it will make you rethink your own family history, until you are left wondering — how much do you know about your own past? And how sure are you that, without warning, your world might not be blown apart?
Evie Saphire-Bernstein is the program director of Jewish Book Council. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.A. in English and a minor in Jewish Studies. Before joining the Jewish Book Council team in 2015, she spent a year and a half working within the Conservative Movement as the Network Liaison for the Schechter Day School Network. She is a recent transplant to New York City, after living in Chicago for most of her life. In her spare time, Evie is a writer and blogger.