Can star-crossed teenage lovers get another chance at happiness twenty years later? Aging, disappointed, and confused, Jewish Westchester housewife Judy fleetingly reconnects with her former love on Facebook. Equally aging and disappointed, Irish-Catholic Collum — now a world-famous actor — bites at her feeler. The two were forcibly and abruptly separated years before, and both are looking past their current wearisome lives to see if young love can be rekindled.
Judy Pincus and Collum Whitsun led an intense Romeo-and-Juliet high school existence, Judy’s strict and innocent upbringing with the requisite high expectations in direct contrast to the Whitsuns’ often violent and drunken ways, which were complete with displays of rampant anti-Semitism. The young lovers planned to run away together, but Judy’s father suffered a health scare and Collum’s father whisked his family away from liberal America to seek refuge on a ranch in Australia. Collum eventually finds his way to movie stardom and Judy is ensconced in a comfortable, if humdrum, marriage with twin teenage boys, but neither forget their promises and love.
The cleverly titled chapters detail the lives of Collum, Judy, Judy’s “perfect” friend Heidi, their children, and their spouses. The different characters’ stories alternately run parallel and converge, offering a most enjoyable read. Down Under is a clever, humorous, witty, deeply insightful, and sometimes absurd novel. The honest truths of long-term marriages and raising challenging children, as well as the sometimes harsh realities of women’s friendships are explored with kindness, depth, and intelligence. Dramatic scenes are interposed with lighthearted capers and events as the characters interact in hilarious and touching scenarios. We sympathize with the foibles and longings of imperfect people trying to fill up the holes in their lives.
Do old passions, lust, and a sense of living on the edge truly offset tedious lives? Though these characters are complicated and misunderstood, they nevertheless must deal with responsibilities, familial obligations, and old resentments. Is a second chance possible? Taitz masterly explores the nuances of love, loyalty, desire, and contentment.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.