Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter
In the spring issue of Jewish Book World, Deborah Schoeneman offered the following review of Babette Hughes’s The Hat (Sunstone Press):
“Ben Gold has a regular morning routine, one that varies slightly on this significantmorning, his last morning. The opening chapter then transitions backward to the youngadult world of Kate Brady, who has just been laid off from her job at a local Cleveland, Ohiobakery in the 1930’s. During this time when the economy is devastated by the Depression,she feels hopeless, humiliated, and confined because of her mother’s alcoholic scenes andtheir poverty. When she first meets Ben, she can’t believe he would be attracted to her withher dowdy clothes and dysfunctional family life. But Kate soon realizes Ben is her passportout of her dire circumstances.
Marriage quickly follows a passionate yet pure courtship. Faintsuspicions run through Kate’s head but are ignored until a devastating loss. Asking questions,threatening to leave because of what she senses are lies about something obviously dangerousand illegal, Kate forces the issue. Now she knows too much and begins to form abond with one of Ben’s “business” partners who is assigned to watch her at all times. Anattempt to escape from this world, a secret relationship, and what follows produces not onebut two startling events for which the reader is totally unprepared. Ben’s father was a devoutJewish man whom Ben condemns, but the remainder of this novel begs the question ofwho is to be condemned. This is a terrific story that chronicles the beginning of the Mafia andits revelations that profoundly changed lives forever.”As a part of Babette’s virtual tour, JBC is pleased to offer an excerpt from The Hat:
We spent our wedding night in the bridal suite. Ben swungopen the door; there were huge vases of white, long-stemmed roseseverywhere – on the end tables, the coffee table, the bureaus –even on thefloor. They smelled oppressive to me, excessive and ominous, the aromaof grand funerals. On the big turned-back bed a white satin nightgownwas spread out that looked to me like the gown of Aphrodite as shesprang from the foam of the sea.
Music drifted through the rooms from aradio somewhere as Ben popped open more champagne and poured it, paleand shimmering, into our glasses. We toasted our future and sipped.Then, as if silently cued from backstage, a waiter wheeled in a cartbearing silver-domed plates of foods I had never seen before. For years Icould not hear certain songs or taste certain foods without the samemix of excitement and unaccountable uneasiness that I felt that nightfor my hours-old marriage.
“Some day he’ll come along, the man I love,”the radio sang, as I dipped the delicate poached salmon, pink and cold,into the queer-tasting caviar sauce. Afterwards, “My Melancholy Baby”always made me think of the moist, tender squab and firm gray-browngranules of gamey wild rice tucked inside. Dessert was Peach Melbaserved in high-stemmed goblets. We ate and sipped champagne and I felteach strange new taste and texture on my tongue, in my nose, my mouth,as it passed my throat. We spoke little, as if words had no place insuch rooms sensuous with exotic flavors, love songs, the thick scent ofroses, and a gown on the bed for a love goddess. Ben kept my glassfilled with champagne and between courses pulled me to my feet to dance,holding me close, humming off-key in my ear.
Later, I was as nervous and ignorant as any eighteen-year-old virginin spite of all the reading I had done – including what was then called aMarriage Manual that spoke of simultaneous orgasms and had alarmingillustrations of the erect male organ. That night in the big bed mypassion abandoned me and I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss wasabout – why Anna Karenina gave up her son, her country, and even her life,or why Emma Bovary allowed her obsessions to cause her own ruin anddeath. But the problem wasn’t Ben’s lovemaking. The truth is that myfather’s Catholicism I thought I left behind, had returned, unbidden, tofind myself still unmarried in the eyes of the church. And although Ihad long since given up both my mother’s Judaism and father’sCatholicism, there were times that I believed the events that followedwere my punishment for the sin of fornication.
Interested in more? Check out the book.