Books on the Way

And Where Is She Now?

Set in the late 1960s, And Where Is She Now? represents the love triangle of Victor Turner, a young lawyer, his wife Sheila Simon Turner, and Victor’s young colleague, Kathleen “Sully” Sullivan. As the novel opens, Victor and Sheila have just become parents and Sully has just been hired as a paralegal at Victor’s law firm. Victor and Sully almost immediately become very close friends, and Sully soon becomes close to Sheila (and the baby) as well. Although Sully develops relationships with several other men, she is drawn to Victor, and he to her. The ensuing complications create a vortex of modern anxiety, within the larger context of the emotional turmoil of the 1960s, that tests the stability of marriage and friendship. The tensions increase as the novel moves toward its carefully prepared for but perhaps surprising conclusion.

Readers of Huidekoper Cat, and Other Tales may be pleased to learn that Sully is a first cousin of someone familiar to them from the story “Two Sisters,” and that Robert Newman, the main character of “The Owner,” who is mentioned also, briefly, in “Two Sisters,” plays a minor but important role in And Where Is She Now? Also in this novel, readers who first met Robert in “The Owner” will be happy to get a little more information about the life of the mysterious Roberta Sheridan.

A Simple Journey

Set in the early 1970s, A Simple Journey represents the life of the Berensky family at a time of several very human family crises. As the novel opens, an important member of the family, known to most of the Berenskys as “Aunt Susan,” has just died, at the surprisingly young age of sixty. Although in recent years the family has experienced other such losses, the death of Aunt Susan’s mother at an advanced age and the death of one of Aunt Susan’s nephews, Jonathan Rosen, who was only twenty-five, this particular death carries with it implications for the family dynamic that even the most grounded family members find challenging.

As readers get to know the family, they learn of an affair between two family members (related through marriage not by blood), see the development of a professional rivalry between two cousins, Linda Berensky and Maynard Beren, and pick up on hints of an earlier rivalry between Maynard and the late Jonathan. The two patriarchs of the family, Joseph Berensky and his younger brother Jack Beren, who have been close to each other throughout their long lives, suddenly experience tensions between them that they now realize have long been developing under the surface. Joseph Berensky, the hero of the novel, whose life has been impressively successful both personally and professionally, realizes that he has made one profound error. This realization leads him to send his grandson Martin Rosen, the younger brother of the deceased Jonathan, on a “simple journey” to Russia in an attempt to resolve some important issues from the past.

The Education of Don Casey

The Education of Don Casey deals with the youth and maturity of its hero, Donald Malcolm Casey, introducing him to the reader as he exists in 1949: a thirteen-year-old enamored with the adventures and idealism of Dumas’ D’Artagnan. The reader will observe Don Casey’s growth from an idealistic and naïve teenager into a still idealistic but somewhat more experienced young man in his late twenties.

The novel is divided into seven parts of decidedly unequal lengths: “Sitting in the Barber Shop”; “In the Shade of the Old Oak”; “Half-Way Down a Side Street”; “Jack in a Box”; “Clear of the Moving Platforms”; “At the Sign of the Tabard”; and “When the Train Came.” It is set in fictionalized versions of the Bronx, a resort in the Catskills, Manhattan, and an inn in New England – beginning with Don Casey’s early adolescent adventures in 1949 and culminating with a kind of victory he achieves in the mid 1960s.

Along the way, readers will get to know a considerable variety of people belonging to the various contexts of the hero’s life. These include Don’s sidekick, Artie Shepansky; Don’s good friend, Jack Fried (who in his late teens finds himself in a kind of “box”); Jack Turner (“the other Jack”), who also finds himself in a kind of box, and his wife, Kathy Turner, whose restlessness threatens her marriage to the man she loves; two high school teachers, Mrs. Sarah Ackerman and Mr. Rudolph Josephson, who encourage Don Casey to turn his idealistic fantasies into socially useful realities; and various people who in somewhat later years help and hinder Don’s efforts to improve the world, including, among others, Ben Miller, Mason Brewster, Magnolia Trew (“Trewsie” to her childhood friends), Gilbert Greenforest (“G.G.”), Marley Price, Maximilian Mortimer, Irving Schneider (“The General”), Deme (Demetrius) Pappas, Warner Wisdom, and Congressman Ethelred Harding. Also important are the series of girls and women who at various times awaken the hero’s interest: Barbara Grey, Margey Sullivan, Marilyn Abrams, Roberta Arnold, Irene Morgan, Laura Barnwood, and Anita Arrow.

The first third of The Education of Don Casey deals with the hero’s youth, taking him up through 1954, when he has his first complete sexual experience at the age of eighteen. While that part of the story develops more or less in a straight line, it is related through two interwoven narrations: portions are told by an impersonal and omniscient narrator, portions by Don Casey’s childhood friend, Henry Proskauer, who is an important minor character in the novel and who grows up to be a writer.

The longer second part of the novel, told mostly by the omniscient narrator, picks up the hero’s life story in the fall of 1962 and follows his development through January of 1965. As the novel approaches its climax, there is a kind of pause in the main narration as a group of characters tell stories to each other. So, in that important section of the novel, there are nine additional narrators. While Henry Proskauer, who has been mostly absent from Don Casey’s life during Part Two, does participate in the action of the novel at this point, Henry here is a listener and observer rather than a narrator.

By the end of The Education of Don Casey, the hero has lost some of his naïveté but none of his idealism.

Despite what some people may suppose, especially my childhood friends (who will notice some superficial similarities between the Bronx neighborhood I have invented and the neighborhood in which we grew up), all characters and events in the novel are purely fictional. I do expect, however, that the social scenes and human interactions that I represent will resonate for my readers as meaningfully real and ultimately true.

An Immoral Obligation

This novel picks up the story of the Berensky family in 1981, eight years after the end of A Simple Journey. Like the previous novel, An Immoral Obligation begins with a death, in this case the death of the 90-year-old Esther Beren, whose passing leaves her former husband, Jack Beren, who had deserted Esther decades earlier to marry a much younger woman, as the only surviving member of the family’s oldest generation. While several members of the second generation of the family, especially Samuel Berensky, who since the death of Joseph Berensky has been considered by many to be the head of the family, do play important roles, the focus of this novel is mostly on the members of the third generation, many of whom are now married, most of them with young children. Getting special attention are Martin Rosen, whose marriage to the former Janet Hoffman is in trouble; Martin’s younger sister, Barbara Rosen, whose engagement to the somewhat stiff Burton Ginzburg is disturbed by Barbara’s sudden interest in Marcel Lecomte, a partner in the architectural firm of Barbara and Martin’s cousin, Bruce Moskowitz; and Maynard Beren, Jack Beren’s son from his second marriage, still unmarried at the age of forty-one, whose surprisingly active interest in the social life of Janet Rosen while she is estranged from her husband leads to major tensions between Maynard and Martin.

Those tensions are complicated by the fact that Martin and Maynard work together at The Gazette, where Maynard is now managing editor. Maynard’s encouragement of an affair between Martin’s wife, Janet, and his assistant managing editor, Jack Bennett, drives Martin into a fury, which is only intensified when Maynard, as managing editor, takes the advice of Jack Bennett, rather than the advice of Martin, about how to handle a major news story that may have important implications for the future of New York City. Meanwhile, Martin, in an effort to win back his wife, engages Marcel Lecomte to design and build a house that Martin has reason to think Janet will love so much that she will be willing to return to their marriage. The building of Janet’s dream house turns out to have profound effects on the lives of various major characters in the novel.

Throughout An Immoral Obligation, the premature death of Jonathan Rosen, now fifteen years in the past, continues to reverberate in significant ways for various surviving members of the extended Berensky family.

Building for the Future

The third Berensky novel takes place in the mid-1990s. Twenty-year-old Rachel Rosen can’t understand why her long-divorced parents, Martin and Janet Rosen, are so resistant to her budding romance with Peter Clark. No one is willing to explain to Rachel that her mother’s affair with Peter’s father was one of the causes of the failure of Martin and Janet’s marriage. Meanwhile, Martin’s cousin, Linda Berensky, a star reporter for The Boston Globe, seems to be developing a surprising relationship with Jack Bennett, now the managing editor of The Gazette.

Jack Bennett’s friend, Cathy Montoya, an idealistic young lawyer, is promoting the idea that Jack should recruit Linda for The Gazette because she hopes to set up Jack and Linda as a couple. But the possibility that Linda would move from The Globe to The Gazette is a source of discomfort for Linda’s cousin, Maynard Beren, who is now The Gazette‘s editor-in-chief. At the same time, Rachel Rosen’s other suitor, Dan Turner, is hoping that Rachel will turn to him if her relationship with Peter Clark doesn’t work out.

Public events of the mid-1990s form part of the background for the private dramas. The reactions to the the policies and behavior of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani by Maynard’s father, Jack Beren, improbably still holding on to life at the age of one hundred and six, and by Cathy Montoya, who is defending a young man accused of fare-beating in the subway, and the reactions of various characters to the 1996 presidential election, provide sources of tension.

Two significant members of the extended Berensky family die during the course of Building for the Future. And the premature death of Jonathan Rosen, now in the distant past, continues to be meaningful for the surviving members of the family.

Final Plans

Final Plans represents the final chapter in the Berensky family saga.

The novel begins on September 11, 2001, with a focus on Rachel Rosen, now a graduate student and teaching fellow at Columbia University, and follows her through her concerns about her students during a time of national turbulence to her various private upheavals as she confronts challenges to the happiness of her marriage in the form of temptations presented by two potential lovers.

The other main character in this novel is Rachel’s father, Martin Rosen, who spends much of the novel worrying about his daughter, and who in two different ways is called on to play out a heroic destiny in his sunset years.

Once again, public events form part of the background for private drama. The novel ends in late 2008, soon after the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

At the final climax of the novel, Martin learns the truth about a family secret that has been threading its way through the tetralogy.