1929. Buffalo, New York. A beautiful July day, the kind one waits for through the long, cold winters. Sadie Feldstein, née Cohen, looks out her window at the unexpected sight of her brother, Irving. His news is even more unexpected, and unsettling: their elder sister, Goldie, has vanished without a trace.
With Goldie's disappearance as the catalyst, The First Desire takes us deep into the life of the Cohen family and an American city, from the Great Depression to the years immediately following World War II. The story of the Cohens is seamlessly told from the various perspectives of siblings Sadie, Jo, Goldie, and Irvingeach of whose worlds is upended over the course of the novel, the smooth veneer of their lives giving way to the vulnerabilities and secrets they've managed to keep hiddenand through the eyes of Lillian, the beautiful woman their father, Abe, took as a lover as his wife was dying. But while Abe's affair with Lillian stuns his children, they are even more shocked by his cold anger in the wake of Goldie's disappearance.
The First Desire is a book of great emotional power that brings to life the weave of love, grief, tradition, and desire that binds a family together, even through the tumultuous times that threaten to tear it apart.
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
Both lovely and heartbreaking in its vision of family ties at their most inevitable. She has on this earth one mother, the book says of Lillian and her punishing parent, a mother she wishes to forget, whose love is the color of bruises and who will, if you ignore her, haunt you into the next world. Ms. Reisman's power to haunt does not stretch quite that far, but it is formidable. It extends from the anxiety and uncertainty of loss, through the everyday wear and tear of family friction, to the reaffirmation of coming home.
A superb new writer . . . Reisman, whose sensually charged, often outright stunning style strongly evokes Virginia Woolf … proves herself a rare master of internal drama, able to isolate the moment that effects a sea change within a lifetime of compromise.
Reisman writes with beauty and precise imagery; she describes one character's personality as carp under ice, nibbling ancient disappointments. This realism, subtly laced with tenderness and compassion, distinguishes a novel whose addictive embrace continues after the last page has been turned.
[A] grimly purposeful tale, where the fog of seething resentments (Niagara is a recurring symbol) can't entirely obscure sporadic gleams of familial love. Beneath the sepia tint, fully imagined lives.
Reisman writes beautifully, a prose of restraint and grace. The achievement of this novel is that you are completely inside it from the moment you begin . . . This is a story that has the shape of life as it is truly lived.
Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies
This is a stealth novel. The characters creep up on you, and before you know it you are inhabiting their world, attuned to intimate details, desires and desperate measures invisible to outside eyes. A lovely read.
Julia Glass, author of Three Junes
Nancy Reisman's first novel is an exquisitely detailed tapestry depicting a small era in the life of one family. How beautifully she writes about the subtle dramas that roil for decades among parents and siblings, about the ways in which the commitment of kinship can make people deeply, unavoidably intimate yet often just as blind to one another's vices, failings, and secret desires. It is a book written with the wisdom bestowed by heartbreak and the complex poetry of truth.
Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
Nancy Reisman has written a book in which the sentences are so lush, the characters are so vivid, and the story is so compelling, I felt I had stepped inside the world she created and had taken up residence. I want to tell you how much I loved it there. The First Desire is not a book to be merely read. It is a book to be lived.
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