In Case We’re Separated

  • Review
By – July 26, 2012

In Case We’re Sep­a­rat­ed is a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion: cheeky, com­pas­sion­ate and minute­ly observed. In 13 con­nect­ed sto­ries, trav­el­ing back and forth with­in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tu­ry, Alice Mat­ti­son brings alive four gen­er­a­tions of a Jew­ish-Amer­i­can fam­i­ly: grand­par­ents, par­ents, broth­ers and sis­ters, cousins, aunts, babies, all busy work­ing, lov­ing, argu­ing, cel­e­brat­ing, cou­pling, uncou­pling, wor­ry­ing (there’s a lot of wor­ry­ing), car­ing for one anoth­er, grow­ing old. 

These are pri­mar­i­ly urban sto­ries, set in the neigh­bor­hoods of Boston, New Haven and New York. (The first pages of I Am Not Your Moth­er,” how­ev­er, take place in an uniden­ti­fied shtetl and seg­ments of Boy In Win­ter” in a small Wis­con­sin town. The Odds It Would Be You,” the ele­giac coda, is set on a lake in the Adirondacks.) 

The award-win­ning first sto­ry, In Case We’re Sep­a­rat­ed,” takes place in Brook­lyn in the ear­ly 50’s where we meet Bob­bie Kaplowitz, her young son, Bradley, and Edwin, her mar­ried boyfriend. Also appear­ing are bossy Aunt Sylvia and her chil­dren, and Edwin’s fam­i­ly. The nar­ra­tive tone is set: spare, fun­ny, heart-breaking. 

The sto­ries evolve against the back­drop of the AIDS epi­dem­ic, the war in Viet­nam, the Kennedy assas­si­na­tion. (In Changes,” Kennedy had died and it was pos­si­ble to change.”) Through­out, the writ­ing is idio­syn­crat­ic and warm, but Mattison’s emo­tion­al palette is broad. In I Am Not Your Moth­er” par­tic­u­lar­ly, it deep­ens into star­tling carnality. 

The final sto­ry, The Odds It Would Be You,” is a ten­der gem. The set­ting is rur­al, the vol­ume low­ered, the pace slowed as Mat­ti­son brings the focus around again to Bob­bie and Bradley. Decades have passed, the bal­ance has shift­ed as a grown, deep­heart­ed Bradley slow­ly pad­dles his moth­er, now grave­ly ill, across the wide waters of a pas­toral lake.

Judith Felsen­feld book of short fic­tion, Blaustein’s Kiss, was pub­lished in April, 2014. Her sto­ries have appeared in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary reviews, includ­ing The Chica­go Review, The South­west Review, Blue Mesa, and broad­cast nation­wide on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.

Discussion Questions