The Family Markowitz

by Allegra Goodman
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $22

Imagine your favorite, comfy chair. Then cover it in a clear, protective plastic.

That is the image of family nurturance that Allegra Goodman describes in her new work of fiction, and it is the illustration that graces the book’s cover. It is a collection of stories about the members of one good family who have lost contact with each other and with the love that should have bound them.

The characters in this book break no stereotypes; they reinforce them. Goodman’s magic in describing three generations of a Jewish family—immigrants and their descendants—is to put into relief the familiar but subtle ways in which their love is worn away by neurosis, guilt, assimilation, rootlessness and a host of other conflicts.

In Rose Goodman she draws the familiar matriarch, for years a dutiful wife and mother, now a demanding widow. Her prominent academic son Ed, who is at the center of the drama, suffers small crises every time his mother—or anyone else—breaks into his carefully constructed cocoon. Compensating for him is his wife Sara, a creative and intelligent woman who abandoned a literary career to be caretaker for her family.

The Family Markowitz does not take you beyond your own backyard. Rather, it burrows deep into that saturated dirt, unearthing ghosts—both funny and sad—that you might have thought buried long ago.