The ‘secret’ isn’t the secret in this family story


the_two_family_houseThe Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman, St. Martin’s Press, 2016. 304 pages, $25.99

Two pregnant sisters-in-law — Helen and Rose — living in the same house, go into labor the same night during a blizzard. They cannot get to a hospital and so a midwife is called. Both women deliver their babies.

Thus begins The Two-Family House.

Not very many pages into the book, I understood what had happened that night and what that might mean for the two families.

At first, I was annoyed with the author for not being more subtle. What was the point of reading on if I knew what would happen? Most readers also would grasp what had taken place that night, I reasoned, and would lose interest in the book.

But instead of detracting from the book, my uncovering of the “secret” enhanced my enjoyment of this novel — one of the best I’ve read in a long time. When and how would the author reveal what had occurred? I began to wonder. How would this affect the two women and their relationship? How would their husbands and children react?

Helen and Rose are married to Abe and Mort, respectively. They are brothers who own a cardboard-manufacturing company in Brooklyn.

Mort had wanted to be a mathematician, but when his father died, Mort left school to help out in the company. He never got over his disappointment and apparently blamed his brother.

Abe is the upbeat salesman; Mort is the morose numbers guy.

It’s not only at work, but also at home, that the two men are mirror images of each other.

Mort, father of three girls, is a misanthrope, a grouch who ignores his children and his wife — until she tells him she is pregnant again. He knows he has not been a good father and husband. Wanting a son, he tries to improve his behavior in order to cement a deal with God — a better Mort in exchange for a boy.

“Mort’s vision of God was the punitive Old Testament righter of wrongs,” Loigman writes. “He convinced himself that with good behavior … he could balance his divine account statement and show a profit of virtue. A successful son to carry on his name and his business would be his reward.”

So, he started paying attention to his daughters and complimenting his wife the way he had when they were first married. “As the weeks went by, Mort decided that it was easier to keep track if he assigned point values to specific actions. He fell into a nightly ritual of calculating his credits and debits, the good deeds and the bad, and silently congratulated himself as his column of virtuous living out-valued the row of unkind words and selfish actions that had so recently defined him.”

Rose understands all too well how important it is for her that her unborn child be a boy.

Abe, father of four boys, is an outgoing, loving husband and father. His wife, Helen, however, is lonely. Her sons — as, I suspect, is the case with most young boys — hardly talk to her except to ask for food. She wants the child she is carrying to be a girl, “not only because of the clothes she could dress her in or the ribbons she could put in her hair. She wanted someone to laugh with, someone who could cry to her, someone she could comfort and understand.”

For what both thought were valid reasons, the sisters-in-law violated the law of man, nature and God. Yet, their crime had some beneficial, as well as expected catastrophic, effects on the two families.

Who, how and why is the subject of this well-written, insightful study of human behavior. It is a debut novel for Lynda Cohen Loigman, and promises good things to come.

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 and in Kindle format.

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