Reviews of The First Desire by Nancy Reisman

The First Desire

by Nancy Reisman

The First Desire by Nancy Reisman X
The First Desire by Nancy Reisman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2005, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Set in Buffalo, New York in the 1930s and '40s, 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.



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 Irving–each 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 hidden–and 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.

Chapter 1
Sadie 1929

July, the air grassy and mild, the sort of morning Sadie waits for through the deep of Buffalo winters—mornings when it seems the city has surrendered to pleasure, to color and light. The harsh seasons are unimaginable. It's as if this is how all of life is meant to be; as if drinking coffee and reading, gardening and casual piano playing, are her true occupations; as if cardinals flashing through the yards and the lush green of lawns and the maple's fat leaves signal a permanent arrival. There are dahlias on the dining table, yellow and red, late strawberries. It's still early, and Sadie has an hour, maybe two, before the day's obligations intrude. The easy time, she thinks, the garden time. It's something she associates with marriage—not the image of a couple in the garden, but the luxury of time alone at her own house. A luxury apparent only after her mother's death, for which of course there is no compensation; but here is...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The First Desire Reading Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s exploration of The First Desire, Nancy Reisman’s richly textured novel about the commitments and the compromises that lie at the heart of family relationships. In portraying the private lives of the Cohen family in Buffalo, New York, from the Great Depression to the post—World War II years, Reisman illuminates as well the social and political milieu of mid-twentieth-century America.


Reader's Guide

  1. The First Desire mainly revolves around a family. Do you think the meaning of family shifts over the course of the novel? How is the Cohen family as a ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

Vogue
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.

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.

Kirkus Reviews
[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. 

Publishers Weekly
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. 

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb Anna Quindlen
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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The First Desire, try these:

  • The Way The Crow Flies jacket

    The Way The Crow Flies

    by Ann-Marie MacDonald

    Published 2004

    About this book

    A novel that is as compelling as it is rich. With her unerring eye for the whimsical, the absurd, and the quintessentially human, Ann-Marie MacDonald stunningly evokes the pain, confusion, and humor of childhood in a perilous adult world.

  • Blessings jacket

    Blessings

    by Anna Quindlen

    Published 2003

    About this book

    More by this author

    A teenage couple drive up to the Blessings estate late at night, leaving a box behind them. The estate caretaker finds a baby asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep her; and matriarch Lydia Blessing, for her own reasons, decides to help him.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...
  • Book Jacket: The Story of Russia
    The Story of Russia
    by Orlando Figes
    In The Story of Russia, British historian and writer Orlando Figes shares panoramic and ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.