Kaaterskill Falls (novel)
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Kaaterskill Falls, paperback edition
|Publisher||The Dial Press|
|August 10, 1998|
|Media type||Print (Hardback, Paperback)|
Kaaterskill Falls is a 1998 novel by Allegra Goodman, set in a small Catskill Mountains, New York, USA, community of predominantly Orthodox Jews during summers in the mid-1970s. The location is based on the town of Tannersville, NY where Goodman spent summers with her family. Like its fictional counterpart, Tannersville at the time was a summer home for the German Jews of Washington Heights, Manhattan.
Kaaterskill Falls spans two years (summer 1976- summer 1978) in the life of a small community in upstate New York. Most of the characters are summer residents, Orthodox Jews whose lives center around the local Orthodox synagogue. Others are year-round residents, both Christians and secular Jews, whose local roots run deep and who coexist in uneasy symbiosis with the summer people.
Elizabeth Shulman, a thirtysomething wife and mother of five daughters, is growing restless with her prescribed role as a woman within the strict Kirshner sect. She conceives the dream of opening a kosher grocery to serve the summer residents of Kaaterskill. Her store is a smashing success, but Elizabeth's perceived laxity in adhering to its rabbinic certification earns the distrust of the Isaiah and Rachel Kirshner. Meanwhile, Elizabeth learns that she is pregnant for the sixth time. Elizabeth experiences a closing in of boundaries as Rabbi Isaiah Kirshner withdraws his permission for her grocery store and a new baby binds her once again to home. Ultimately, she takes a job as an assistant at a grocery store in Washington Heights (where the Shulmans live for most of the year) in order to learn the business.
Another plot line revolves around strife within the Melish family. Middle-aged Andras Melish struggles with a sense of distance from his young, lively, somewhat dictatorial wife, Nina. He forges an unlikely clandestine friendship with the reclusive Una Darmstadt-Cooper. Meanwhile, teenage Renee Melish rebels against her mother's expectations for her and forms an unsuitable friendship with a gutsy Syrian girl, Stephanie Fawess. Renee also attracts the attention of a local boy, Ira Rubin.
Still another plot line concerns the Kirshner rabbinic succession. The elderly, widowed Rav Kirshner is afflicted with Parkinson's Disease but remains reluctant to hand the reins of power over to his faithful but plodding son Isaiah. Isaiah's ambitious wife, Rachel, resents this, just as she resents her father-in-law's deep affection for his brilliant elder son Jeremy, who left the Kirshner sect to become a college professor. Rav Kirshner dies mid-way through the novel and Rabbi Isaiah launches a vigorous crackdown on perceived laxities within the sect.
Isaac Shulman, a quiet, mild-mannered Kirshner Jew, and his wife Elizabeth. They have five daughters (Chani, Malki, Rochel, Sorah, Brocha) when the book begins, and a sixth (Chaya) is born in early 1978.
Andras Melish, a middle-aged importer, and his vivacious but bossy young wife, Nina. They have a teenage daughter, Renee, and a son. The Melishes are close to Andras's two elderly, childless sisters, Eva and Maja, and their husbands.
Cecil Birnbaum, the gadfly of Kaaterskill's Orthodox Jewish community, and his bride, Beatrix, a mathematician. They are close friends of Jeremy Kirshner. Cecil's sister Regina, who lives in California, also appears in a few scenes.
Rav Elijah Kirshner, the esteemed elderly rabbi of the Kirshner sect. He has two sons: the brilliant, rebellious Jeremy, a college professor, and the quiet, dutiful Isaiah, who eventually succeeds his father as the Rav of the Kirshner sect. Isaiah is married to Rachel, a bright but rigid woman who acts as the power behind the throne, and they have one son. The character is loosely based on Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer who, like his fictional counterpart, spent summers in Tannersville and lead the German Jewish community of Washington Heights until his death in 1980.
Judge Taylor, a local political leader
Ernestine Schermerhorn, the local librarian and gossip-monger
Michael King, an ambitious local builder
Stephanie Fawess, a fast-talking, gutsy, political girl who strikes up a friendship with Renee, to the consternation of Nina Melish
Ira Rubin, a teenage Kaaterskill boy who has a crush on Renee Melish
Una Darmstadt-Cooper, a recluse
Honors and awards
- Finalist for the National Book Award (1998)
- A New York Times Notable Book (1998)