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Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt

An American Family by Peter Lefcourt 225x300 Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt

Mazeltov! cried the new guy in the office when I returned from my honeymoon. When I thanked him, he added, ah-ha! We can spot each other a mile away.

Needless to say, he was a little saddened when I explained that Im not Jewish.

But this odd little anecdote highlighted something for me that Ive seen amongst many of my Jewish friends: an astonishing sense of family and community. And its this that Peter Lefcourts An American Family'examines with unwavering insight'and often brutal honesty, the latter which is fortunately diluted with a solid helping of humour.

Beginning in the 1960s and concluding in the present, the novel is a sweeping exploration of the lives of four generations of the New York-based Perl family, all of whom seem to long to break out from the thumbscrews of the family traditions and expectations, yet who continue to retreat beneath the shelter of its umbrella when things turn sourand how they do. Like any family, theres that ambivalent push and pull thats involved with being an involuntary member of a community you dont quite see eye to eye with, and in the case of the Perls, theres also plenty of cultural baggage as well.

A recurring motif is the Thanksgiving holiday, which is used as the central point at which the characters unite to share, or not share, as is often the case, the changes occurring in their lives, and which mark an evolution of sorts of the family as a whole. There are certain notable thanksgivings that represent milestones that require the family to shift its frame of reference: the death of 80-year-old patriarch Meyer, for example, and eventually that of his son Nathan. The births that occur in proximity to these deaths also play a role in marking the gradual drift from one focal generation to another, and Lefcourt allows the narrative to progress accordingly, although the focus remains the five Perl siblings, all of whom live dramatically different lives, but all of them striving for acceptance with the family.

Theres cutthroat businessman Michael, whos always looking for the next big thing, and is happy to stake his fortune on it; lawyer Jackie, whose career and sobriety are constantly up and down, but who remains the bail-out guy among his siblings; novelist and intrepid wanderer Stephen, whose sexuality remains unacknowledged by the conservative older generations of his family; Elaine, a teacher who fears that she has made the terrible mistake of settling in life; and Bobbie, the black sheep of the family, who escapes to California to free herself from the crippling expectations of her family. All are equally intriguing to read, not necessarily purely as individuals, but for the individuals they representthat wider cultural imprint.

Lefcourt describes his novel as a cultural autobiography, and it certainly has that larger-than-life, everyman tone to it. The honest simplicity of those older immigrant generations is frequently contrasted against the money-hungry, culturally-devoid attitudes of the subsequent generations in an ideological tug-of-war that, no matter how fallacious, will be familiar to anyone from an immigrant background.

Though the ending tugs a little too strongly on the heart strings, and the print edition I received was of poor qualityits an ugly edition, with too-small margins, an awful use of line breaks rather than indents to mark new paragraphs, and a shoddy proofreading job at bestoverall this is a strong read. Lefcourt does an admirable job of making his characters both familiar and relatable, and theres a sense here of the authors intimacy with the stories being told.

Rating: star Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourtstar Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourtstar Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourthalfstar Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourtblankstar Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt (very good)

With thanks to Meryl L Moss Media Relations for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing An American Family'from Amazon

See also our Peter Lefcourt guest post

Other books by Peter Lefcourt:

 Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt Book Review: An American Family by Peter Lefcourt


  1. I hate it when books are filled with errors or that are printed in a way which is difficult to read.
    For me that takes away from the enjoyment of the final product (and it seems that you are the same way).

    I can give leeway to Indie books but it is inexcusable for books published by one of the biggies.

    That being said, this book sounds as if you enjoyed it other than the formatting.

  2. Stephanie /

    Me too, Zohar. I think this one is intended to be sold largely as an ebook, but I suspect that some problems will exist in the e-version as well. It really is a good read, but its hard to ignore those typos and formatting errorsits not just a few, but hundreds and hundreds.

  3. I am disappointed to hear about the formatting issues I will be reading this book soon. I am especially interested in the immigrant theme in the book.

    • Stephanie /

      Will you be reading a print edition, or the ebook? I suspect that some of the formatting problems (the paragraphing and margins) might not be as much of an issue in the e-book, but Im sad to say that the typos and errors are pretty persistent throughout. Still, its definitely worth the read, and I hope you enjoyo it. :)

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