Title: Being Esther by Miriam Karmel
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 202 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
A wonderful fiction debut, Being Esther gives voice to Esther Lustig, an extraordinary woman who has lived a conventional life, in this touching exploration of aging and its accompanied search for meaning.
In spare, refreshingly unsentimental prose, Miriam Karmel has given us one of literature’s finest portraits of the last months of a woman’s life. At once sad and amusing, unpretentious and ambitious, Karmel’s fiction debut brings understanding and tremendous empathy to the character of Esther Lustig, a woman readers will recognize and embrace.
Born to parents who fled the shtetl, Esther Lustig has led a seemingly conventional life—marriage, two children, a life in suburban Chicago. Now, at the age of eighty-five, her husband is deceased, her children have families of their own, and most of her friends are gone. Even in this diminished condition, life has its moments of richness, as well as its memorable characters. Being Esther is an exploration of aging, a search for meaning, and about the need, as Esther puts it, for better roadmaps for growing old.
Miriam Kramer’s debut novel, Being Esther, is a poignant and moving novel about the last few months of Esther Lustig’s life. Esther is eighty-five, widowed and living independently in the apartment she shared with her husband, Marty. As her daughter, Ceely, tries to convince her to move to an assisted living facility, Esther reflects on her life, marriage, children and friendships.
Looking back, Esther is filled with regrets for much of her life. Her relationship with Ceely is complex with many unresolved issues. Esther also has a son, but they have no contact during the few months leading up to her death. Esther’s friendship with childhood Lorraine is absolutely delightful and they are wonderfully supportive of one another.
While I liked the overall story, Being Esther is a little slow moving. The narrative is sometimes disjointed and confusing. The story is told in first person from Esther’s perspective, so maybe this jumping around is a deliberate attempt to demonstrate Esther’s wandering mind. I found this frustrating and several times, I had to re-read passages trying to figure out if I had missed a transition from one scene to the next.
Being Esther is an insightful, but melancholy, novel. Miriam Kramer provides readers a realistic viewpoint of the ups and downs of growing older. An interesting character study and commentary on aging that I enjoyed despite the few issues noted above.