Actual rating: 4.5 stars, rounded up.
This was such a beautiful, heartbreaking story.
Wolas once again made me feel deeply for people comprised of ink, who have never and will never draw breath in reality. I’ve never come across another author who has quite her way with presenting the inner thoughts of a fictional character in such a moving, gripping fashion. I feel like I know the Tabors more intimately than many of the flesh and blood people in my life, and almost certainly better than the Tabors know themselves.
“Who among us is ever as good as they can be, as they want to be? And isn’t the effort what’s most important, the pursuit in that direction, that the good we discover in ourselves we claim, or reclaim, and use wisely and well, and spread it around, pass it on?”
Harry Wolas has been named Man of the Decade in his home of Palm Springs. His wife, Roma, couldn’t be more proud. His children, Phoebe, Camille, and Simon, are all trekking back home to celebrate their father at the gala being held in his honor. They’re a beautiful, successful, happy family. Every member, including Simon’s wife and children, shine. They have lived charmed lives. But unbeknownst to the rest of the clan, every single one of them is struggling deeply with some aspect of their lives.
“I have been a lucky man. And that is true, absolutely true. But luck is a rescindable gift.”
Communication is such a huge deal to me and my family. We share everything, both good and bad, because joy is more profound when shared, and grief less debilitating when the weight of it spans many sets of shoulders. But the Tabors hide their inner turmoil from one another, because who wants to be the weakest link in such a perfect family?
“She knows now that when she enters the kingdom of home, she will do so with bravery, with love in her heart, and her life under wraps.”
No problem is quite so large as we imagine it to be when we share it with someone we trust. Bringing something out of the dark recesses of your soul and seeing it in the light of day is probably the most relieving experience there is. Roma, the wife and mother and renowned child psychiatrist, knows this. Her beautiful, intelligent children are all aware of this. Harry, the honored patriarch, knows this. But no one wants to be a disappointment or a burden, and so they all keep their struggles bottled up within them instead of exposing their wounded souls and asking for help in removing the thorn before infection sets in. Some go even farther, hiding their turmoil from even themselves, allowing themselves to forget anything was ever wrong in the first place. But that hidden secret always finds a way to reassert itself to the mind.
“He once told me that one could not assume the big world meant your own world was large. He said that to make your world large, you needed to hold something back, to keep some things for yourself. If everything about you was known to another, you would feel smaller than you actually were, and you would come to accept that smallness, and in turn, you would inevitably shrink. But holding close to your heart your hopes and your dreams was like owning the key to the universe. He said, ‘Certain secrets you must not keep, but other secrets are liquid gold, manna from heaven, will serve to create infinity within you.”
The above statement is so incredibly profound, but I disagree with it. I think we need people to know our deepest hopes and wildest dreams, because when we hoard them within ourselves I believe they can become stunted and choked with no room to grow. We need an inner circle to share our lives with, whether that circle is one we’re born into or build ourselves as we move through life. We need praise and encouragement and sympathy and understanding, and those are things we can’t give ourselves in a meaningful way.
“Their condensed happiness was like a fragile flower cracking through bone-dry dirt, beauty found if they shut their eyes to the rough world and forced their hearts open.”
So often we close our eyes to life because it’s unpleasant, but we close our hearts as well, living in repetition and solitude and garnering no true enjoyment from the world. I think that is the saddest existence one can lead, and it’s something I have rebelled against my entire life. I believe in finding beauty in brokenness and purpose in pain. I believe in living a life of aggressive optimism, embracing what you’ve been given instead of mourning for what you’ve been denied, and making the most of every day. Do I think we should be blind to the troubles that beset us? Absolutely not. But I think thunder is a lot less scary if you like to dance in the rain.
“Prayer is as elusive as snowflakes, fingerprints, the dreams we each have.”
So much of this book centered around religion and how important it is in regards to how we view ourselves. The Tabors are Jews by heritage, but they don’t really practice. They observe the high feast days, but that’s about it. This reminded me of what my sister-in-law calls certain members of her church: CEO Christians, or “Christmas/Easter Only” worshippers. But the Tabors view their heritage as immensely important, and this book highlights all of them meditating on the past of their people and what the beliefs held by that people mean. Faith has always been such a huge part of our world, and I honestly don’t believe that will ever change. Is it ever too late to embrace your faith and make it real to yourself? Never. What if your decision to start truly practicing the faith of your people meant that you would lose something else? Would it be worth it to you? In my opinion, the faith you claim isn’t genuine if you cannot answer that question with a resounding yes.
“The search for the mystical doesn’t come with a schedule; it can’t be discussed and mutually agreed upon. The one who hears the call is compelled to do whatever he must to experience it.”
My faith matters deeply to me. Yes, I was raised in church, but I was always encouraged to ask questions and think for myself instead of just accepting something as truth because I heard it from the pulpit. I believe there is nothing more personal and powerful than faith. I loved getting to experience the Jewish faith and culture through this book. I’ve observed a few feast days with Messianic Jewish friends, but Judaism is a topic I would love to learn more about. It’s the foundation upon which my own faith is built, the religion that my Savior observed, and I find it fascinating. Wolas did an amazing job at presenting both religion and the inner struggle of someone being pulled toward belief.
Obviously I loved this book. The Family Tabor was incredibly deep, and focused on two topics that are of utmost importance to me: faith and family. The only problems I had were more than likely self induced. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby was one of my favorite books of 2017, so I was inadvertently holding Wolas to an incredibly high standard regarding her sophomore novel. While this book was wonderful, it didn’t impact me quite as profoundly as her first book. And even though the prose was still beautiful and thoughtful, it didn’t feel quite as tight as I remembered from Joan Ashby, instead taking a more meandering approach. But I still found Wolas’s writing style absolutely lovely, and have a couple dozen highlights in my copy to show for it. The ending was another problem for me, not because it wasn’t powerful but because it broke my heart. That’s not an issue, just a statement of fact. One final miscellaneous note: Wolas had one of her characters reading a book by Joan Ashby in one scene, and it made me so incredibly happy!
If you’re a literary fiction reader, I heartily encourage you to pick up copies of both this novel and The Resurrection of Joan Ashby. Wolas is an incredibly talented author and I absolutely cannot wait to see what she creates next. Her character development surpasses anything I’ve ever seen, and she always give me so much philosophical food for thought. Even though she’s only published two books to date, she has earned her slot on my list of favorite authors.
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!