Published by Lee Boudreaux Books
Publication date: March 15th 2016
Sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec inherited their family’s cabin on the Connecticut shore and now they convene every summer, staying with their children during the week while their husbands drive up on Friday in time for Shabbos. In As Close to Us as Breathing author Elizabeth Poliner freezes, with the clarity of amber, a very specific time and place and within that the lives of a family. That she opens the novel with the sentence “The summer of 1948 my brother Davy was killed in an accident…” might make everything that follows seem anti-climactic but this is not the case. Instead, we join Molly, her older brother Howard, her cousin Nina and the rest of their family in their last summer together. As Close to Us as Breathing moves back and forward from there, reconnecting with Molly in 1998 when most of the rest of the family is gone. Using Molly’s memories and the voices of other family members Poliner brings insight to that terrible summer and its aftermath.
The Leibritskys are a traditional Jewish family, close-knit and devout, with the summers seen as a break from routine and with small freedoms not found in their everyday life. It is the details of each of the characters, from Mort’s stopping for a hot dog every Friday on his way to the cabin to Howard’s secret Irish girlfriend, Ada’s temper, Bec’s affair, and Nina’s frustration at her cousin’s incessant teasing, that crystalizes into an accident for which they all feel responsible. It is no secret that the death of Davy irrevocably changes everyone forever, but it is what comes before that makes As Close to Us as Breathing such a poignant slice-of-life. This is not a novel packed with action despite the death of a little boy. Rather it is a gently paced character study about the bonds of family and religion and how, when tested, those bonds may not be enough.