“Floating in the Neversink: A Novel-in- Stories” by Andrea Simon. Castroville, Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2019. 176 pages. $17.95.
Seniors, next time someone asks your age, instead of saying “late middle age,” which you’ve noticed lately has been eliciting funny looks or even snickers, try “the age of nostalgia.” That response has several advantages. First of all, it is astonishingly vague, putting you in the 25 to 100-year-old age group.
Even more important, it’s true. Everyone of a certain age spends at least part of his or her time in the past.
Which leads me to “Floating in the Neversink” — the Babe Ruth, the William Shakespeare, the Taj Mahal, the Rolls Royce of nostalgia.
It’s about a time when middle-class people drove Buicks and Chevrolets and drank Schlitz beer; when Jews vacationed in the Catskills and lived in Brooklyn; when women and girls wore white angora sweaters; when the Dodgers played in Ebbets Field and the term “New York football Giants” was not said jokingly, for there really were New York baseball Giants.
It’s the story of a highly troubled fictional family. Amanda, the protagonist, is a young girl. Her mother and father fight constantly; her father is cold to her and calls her “dummy”; Amanda’s father’s brother and his wife also engage in domestic warfare, as her aunt imagines that every man is trying to seduce her and her husband is having an affair; Amanda’s father’s other brother, Benny, the youngster discovers, committed suicide while he was home visiting from a psychiatric hospital where he was living; and Amanda is being sexually abused, forced to perform fellatio by a friend of her unsuspecting parents.
Apparently a bunch of short stories strung together, the book is well written; Amanda is both believable and astute.
For example, she describes her father’s love of baseball. “My father was a man of limited tastes, but when he loved something, there was no limit. Above all, my father loved baseball.
He loved the New York teams … . [H]e listened to the radio all summer as the announcers spewed batting averages, earned run averages, runs batted in, shutouts, homers, and records for anything that happened more than once. For a nonintellectual sport that had little action, baseball depended on its fans to be obsessive statisticians.”
Like her father, Amanda’s mother is cold. “Not that my mother was like most mothers,” she notes. “With her unblemished complexion, dimpled nose tip, and thick upswept chestnut hair, she was prettier than [1950s TV sitcom mothers] Harriet Nelson and Loretta Young. Not that prettiness ever helped her. It was both good and bad that, when it came to being like other mothers, she left me alone.”
Despite her talents, author Andrea Simon didn’t give me much of a reason to care about Amanda and the other characters. In fiction, that’s a fatal flaw.
Maybe the fault was with the reader.
Perhaps the age gap between Amanda and me is too large to bridge, although I was a teenager in the late 1950s, the time in which the novel is set.
Now, I find teen angst and intrigues (not surprisingly) childish.
Possibly, my interests would have been piqued had I ever been to the Catskills as a youngster or had grown up in Brooklyn.
To me, nostalgia gets an unabashed and absolute yes; “Floating in the Neversink,” not so much.
Aaron Leibel is a former editor at The Jerusalem Post and Washington Jewish Week. His novel, “Generations: The Story of a Jewish Family,” which spans 1,500 years and three continents, is available at amazon.com and in Kindle format.