A Person Worth Listening To
New books dissected over email.
April 25 2002 8:22 AM

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Dear Jodi

It takes some time to realize the importance of Blumenfeld's domestic drama—her parents' divorce, their subsequent remarriages to new partners, and their continuing relationships to her and to her each other—to her book as a whole. This second plot sneaks up on you unawares. At first I thought it was mostly extraneous, a way for Blumenfeld to pad out her material and present herself as the too-cute character that seemed to irritate you a bit. But by the end you realize how central it is to the rest of her story.

For a time, her parents present a delightfully comic foil to the seriousness of what Blumenfeld is doing. There's her mother, who describes herself to her doctor as suffering from "chronic cheerfulness" and who greets her adored daughter by saying, "Hi, sweety pie dolly darling." There's her father, devastated by his divorce from a woman who, he said, was always the prettiest one in the room, but now devoted to his new wife, a woman who enjoys dressing in the same outfits as him (matching Hawaiian shirts, for instance) so that they can be "twinsies." There's her mother's new husband, Bernie, who welcomes Blumenfeld and her husband to his house "with a seven-page memo—27 helpful hints on how to run the house while they were away on vacation."

It's her mother, accompanying Blumenfeld on what will be her last and crucial trip to Jerusalem, who puts her finger on Blumenfeld's complicated motives for her project:

"Hurting that fellow in a prison in Ashkelon isn't doing a nice thing for Daddy," she says. "That guy is irrelevant. Poor shooter has little to do with this. I think he triggered all these angry thoughts in you and he was a vehicle to get your feelings out. Daddy being so hurt by the divorce. And you feeling guilty about being a part of it because I confided in you."

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And then it becomes clear to Blumenfeld that her mother is right: Part of her motive in going through her elaborate revenge operation has been to prove to her father that he is truly loved, to help assuage his hurt about his ex-wife's apparent indifference (when he told her about the shooting, she quickly got off the phone). Blumenfeld wants to make it up to him. And after she and her mother talk this all through—what an enlightened family, I thought, to have these discussions without falling into bitterness and recrimination—she has the courage to do what she finally does. And her mother has the grace to invite Blumenfeld's father, her ex-husband, out to lunch, their first meeting alone together in 13 years, and to work toward easing the pain between them.

You spoke of Blumenfeld's motives. I at first had the same mean thoughts you did, thinking that she cynically took on the project to get material for a book. But I think that's looking at it backward. She was  lucky: She found the people she was looking for, she was able to find her way through the feelings she had toward them, and she had that amazing cathartic moment in the courtroom. All those pieces of luck not only made her book better, but probably enabled her to write the book in the first place (what if she had showed up at the family's door, for instance, and they had never let her in?—there goes the advance). And I found her descriptions of herself—after all, she's the biggest character in the book—entirely plausible. She's brave and forthright enough to discuss her conflicting feelings about herself, her motives, the people she interviews, her role as a reporter, and to present a panoply of perspectives, including those of her friend Rachel. Sure, she's an artful writer, but I don't think she wrote this way as a device, but rather as an insight into her thought process, as clear-headed as she could make it. A lot of my enjoyment and admiration of the book rest on what I thought of Laura Blumenfeld—not just as a writer, but as a person. And perhaps this is one of those cases where she's all over the news because she's actually worth listening to.

All best to you,
Sarah

Sarah Lyall is a London correspondent for the New York Times. You can follow her on Twitter.

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