IN DAHLIA'S WAKE
Doubleday, April 19, 2005
Reviewer Sissy Jacobson
Contemporary Women’s Fiction
When their seven-year-old daughter is killed in a bizarre automobile accident, Naomi and Rick Wechsler each handle their grief in different ways. IN DAHLIA’S WAKE is the story of this couple’s all too human behavior following a life-changing event, and their painful journey back to each other. It also portrays the ripple effect their actions have on the lives and families of others.
Rick and Naomi are an upper middle class Jewish couple who live quietly normal lives in Brooklyn near Rick’s podiatry practice. Naomi teaches at the private school their daughter Dahlia attends. But everything changes with Dahlia’s death. Naomi’s reaction in the days and weeks that follow is to withdraw physically and emotionally, sleeping in Dahlia’s room, eating very little, and barely speaking to Rick. She quits her teaching job and begins volunteering three days a week at the very hospital where her daughter had been pronounced dead. The work soon becomes an obsession that Rick does not understand.
Rick is starving for warmth and comfort from his wife who is now seemingly encased in ice. Does Naomi blame him for their daughter’s death? Even though he is completely innocent, he feels guilty. He needs intimacy with Naomi but since this is out of the question, he turns first to pornography. When his office manager Lillian, the divorced mother of a young boy, initiates a sexual encounter Rick is ripe and ready for an affair. Rick’s sexual fantasies leap out at the reader as glaringly vulgar because they do not fit with the tone of the book. Thank goodness there are only a couple places early on where they appear, then the author drops that line.
Dr. Michael McBride, the father of fifteen-year-old twin girls, has been happily married for twenty years, but something draws him to Naomi. She is standoffish at first, but Michael continues to be friendly to her. When she learns of Rick’s affair, Naomi cries on Michael’s shoulder and one thing leads to another, until they finally spend the night together in Manhattan. The next day as Michael is walking Naomi to the subway, his daughter Brooke spots them. This not only has an emotional impact, but leads to severe physical damage in the McBride family.
McDonough uses third person narration interspersed with a lesser amount of dialogue to tell this story. As a result, the characters did not become real enough to draw me deeply into their lives. Even though they are Jewish, Hispanic, and Irish-Italian, they all ‘sounded’ alike in the dialogue. I pictured Rick as a short, chubby, slightly balding man dressed in a three piece suit, and Naomi as a tall slender woman who looks chic in blue jeans and a cable knit sweater. Over halfway into the story, Rick is described as tall and slender and a runner, but it was too late for me to change my impression of him.
The idea for the plot is a good one, but depth in characterization and description is lacking. The author goes into detail with the secondary characters, taking emphasis away from the main characters and storyline. Even though I became engrossed in each segment, especially the ones about Naomi’s mother, these side trips lead to confusion and take away from the whole. It took me almost a week to read a book that I would normally have read in a couple of days because there were too many sections that were convenient stopping places. That said, IN DAHLIA’S WAKE, McDonough’s second novel, is definitely worth the hardcover price and Yona Zeldis McDonough is an author whose career is worth following. Some of her interesting essays are posted on her website at www.yonazeldismcdonough.com.
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