Books

The Family Secrets Are Coming Out in This Queer Jewish Novel

CITY OF LAUGHTER, by Temim Fruchter


Like desire and secrets, “laughter is no controlled substance,” Temim Fruchter writes in “City of Laughter,” her brainy and richly textured debut novel. “It goes where it wants to go.” Grief, too, is hard to contain. In the wake of both her father’s death and a difficult breakup, Fruchter’s 32-year-old heroine, Shiva Margolin, attempts to unravel 100 years of tangled generational trauma in order to find inner peace. The more complicated fate she ultimately embraces makes this unabashedly queer Jewish family story a new take on our uncertain age.

While earlier generations of her family may have accepted the dictum that “if something is closed, it is meant to stay that way,” Shiva rejects her mother Hannah’s threadbare wisdom. Embracing a new identity as a queer woman, Shiva takes a second look at her comfortable if confined life working at a nonprofit and living in Brooklyn.

Nurturing the seeker and storyteller in herself, Shiva embraces these qualities in others as well. “When her friends wanted their stories reflected back to them, they looked for that reflection in one another, telling and deeply listening,” she notes. This is unlike stoic, silent Hannah, who guards her family’s secrets.

Openness is exactly what Shiva needs. “They gave each other generosity and kindness as the generations couldn’t or hadn’t been allowed,” she says of her friends. Shiva feels “precious, glittering, funny, found” in their company as a proud, single queer femme. It’s a description that could also be used to describe newly discovered photos of Shiva’s late grandmother, Syl. She was a fervent believer and a strict parent to Hannah, but her sartorial flair revealed a certain jouissance.

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