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Prayers for the Living, National Public Radio commentator Alan Cheuse’s mythic story of the American Dream gone to pieces, is both grandiose in its vision and loving in its familiarity. Presented in a series of conversations between grandmother Minnie Bloch and her companions, the novel creates a layered family portrait of three generations of the Bloch family, whose members are collapsing under everyday burdens and brutal betrayals.
Her son Manny is a renowned, almost legendary rabbi. Respected by his congregants and surrounded by family, he yearns secretly for a life of greater personal glory. When an oracular bird delivers what Manny believes to be a message from his deceased father, he abandons his pulpit in pursuit of a life in business, and his entire life spirals out of control.
As his fortunes rise in the corporate realm, Manny falls deeper into an affair with a congregant; his wife’s alcoholism and depression become more profound; and his daughter Sarah is sexually traumatized at a nearby college. Incapable of offering either his wife or daughter the support they need, Manny becomes the target of Sarah’s plot to shatter his beloved new empire.
The devoted family matriarch, Minnie, observes and recounts her family’s tragic downfall with language as realistic and incantatory as any dreamer’s can be. Move over Ishmael, here comes Minnie Bloch.
“‘I want the world,’ shouts William Dubin, the biographer-protagonist of Bernard Malamud’s Dubin’s Lives, raging at a life that thinks he should survive without passions. Meet Dubin’s kinsman Manny Bloch, the tormented, cursed hero of this fine novel by Alan Cheuse. At once tender and brutal, unsparing and wise, Prayers for the Living masterfully ventriloquizes not only the voices of Manny and the people he cherishes and destroys, but those of an entire America staring at itself in a cracked mirror.”
—Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life
“A tour de force of voice, character, and psychology from an American master at the height of his powers. Minnie Bloch’s tale of her family’s slow disintegration echoes Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! recast in New York and New Jersey, a search for understanding and meaning amidst the wreckage of a life gone off the rails in pursuit of the American dream.”
—Christian Kiefer, author ofThe Animals
“Cheuse enlarges the immigrant tale of aspiration and loss. His narrator, in a lyrically heightened dialect as bold and capacious as the voices of William Faulkner, propels the story toward its conclusion with a dire largeness of scope that deserves the word ‘tragic.’”
—Robert Pinsky, author of Gulf Music