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Reisman, Nancy. The First Desire, a novel.

REISMAN, Nancy. The first desire, a novel. Random House, Anchor. 310p. c2004. 1-4000-77990. $13.95. A

The second quarter of the 20th century marks the period when the five Cohen children step into their highly individuated and stylized worlds. Sadie is already Sadie Feldstein, newly married to a dentist. Jo's moodiness is obvious but hasn't yet reached the riptides of anger and meanness that develop as her personality evolves across the years. Celia is not altogether normal, but her descent doesn't seem as precipitous as Jo's. Goldie leaves Buffalo almost at the outset of the story, disappearing out West, dead to their father. And the only brother, Irving, toys with his identity: gigolo, WASP, gambler, soldier, son. As Reisman constructs the family timeline against carefully limned settings, replete with Buffalo neighborhoods and four seasons of intense weather, each sibling's viewpoint vouches for the accuracy of the others', although it seems that this is the only aspect of life on which the siblings would agree. Sadie values fine appearance, fine feelings, social security, and her ability to cope with her odd relatives. Jo allows her longing for a woman at her workplace to fester until it becomes a rotten part of her outlook on life. Celia refuses to wash, to take responsibility for more than two meals in a row, to acknowledge grown-up issues such as the reading of her father's will. Goldie travels back from California, 20 years after leaving home, not when their father dies but when Celia has a stroke. Irving womanizes across so many years that when he decides to marry, he can't figure out how to move beyond the first date with the apparently right woman.

Reisman controls all these seething emotions like a juggler with flaming sticks: each sibling blazes forth by turn, then fades into the periphery as the next one's story is launched. This is domestic drama in every sense of those two words, set just far enough back in time that the details of personality and culture can be examined with some clinical distance, a distance that heightens the emotional tug of the Cohens on their reader, rather than dampening it. Francisca Goldsmith, Libn., Berkeley PL, Berkeley, CA
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Author:Goldsmith, Francisca
Publication:Kliatt
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:366
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