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The Four Temperaments

This debut novel from Lilith Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough sets its five main characters against the backdrop of the New York City Ballet. The Four Temperaments (Doubleday, $23.95) deals with men and women who squelch dreams and ignite new passions on a diet of love and disappointment. Oscar Kornblatt, married, middle- aged first violinist with the New York City Ballet orchestra, falls in love with a spirited and gifted young dancer with the company. Oscar, a failed “brilliant artist” who has instead become a talented musician and breadwinner, is more father than lover to Ginny Valentine. Oscar’s wife Ruth, who put her own musical career on permanent hold, spends her days seeking out perfect ingredients for shabbos meals, caring for crack babies and nursing home residents, and wondering what she can do to keep her family connected. Though she’s aware of Oscar’s infatuation with “that girl,” Ruth firmly believes that “there may have been few surprises in married love, but there was great tenderness, one of the rewards of long intimacy.” She finds herself inviting Ginny for Thanksgiving, a potential shiddukh for her youngest son. Instead, Ruth catches her oldest, Gabriel, married to a beautiful obsessive-compulsive ice queen, embracing Ginny in the guest room

Not all the relationships last until the end of the book, although McDonough’s observant narrative allows the reader to dissect each character’s romantic motivations, from the rise in status that marriage brings to the desire to return to the youthful passions of an uncomplicated tryst. While the illegitimate couplings are tainted by guilt, the socially sanctioned ones are fettered with secrets, lies, and unclear intentions. Truth’s healing power does eventually enter the tale, and readers learn that each of the Four Temperaments brought to the stage by Balanchine— Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic—is part of the mosaic needed to ensure that love and passion endure the wanderings of the heart.

Yael Flusberg is a writer and co-founder of Sol & Soul, an arts and social change organization based in Washington, D.C.