As you might have guessed from the title, The Second Daughter is a generational book. Alden and Edna, Benny and Dottie, come and go, and then the next generation starts its inexorable passage into history. And that next generation was the one born in the 1950s, one with a unique set of events and beliefs about the present and the future, pulling away from the prior one with its peculiar sensibilities.
Back when women wore color-coordinated outfits:
“And there, at the corner of Seventeenth and Waterhouse, at one of the payphones, was a delicate woman in a shiny pink rain jacket with matching pink boots and umbrella. She was cradling the phone against her slender neck while holding a cigarette in her left hand and her little pink umbrella in her right.”
Back when people had standards:
“Before having to live up to the impossibly demanding standards of a wife who thought too much and maybe really did live too little.”
Back when people had rotary phones:
“She removed the phone from its cradle on the wall and pulled it, with its long cord, to the kitchen table. Acting as cool as she could she stuck her fingers into the appropriate holes and dialed the number.”
Back when people smoked cigarettes to be fashionable, or thin, or cool:
“For it was Super Eddie, the handsome rock star with the gorgeous smile who played the electric guitar; who wore his sunglasses indoors; who went shirtless pretty much all the time; who had the thick gelled hair; who made cigarette smoking so unbelievably cool…”
J. Jeffrey keeps his readers apprised of background events: “Gasoline tankers were exploding, the forgotten war was being remembered, and a spectacular late November sunset welcomed in the eve of The Very Busy Day.”
J. Jeffrey also gives us a dose of philosophy. His characters construct systems of thought and then assume that these match reality: they behave “as if” the world matches their models. But they also ask “what if” from time to time, so they are surprisingly self-aware. “What if” the second daughter had never been born? “What if” I had left the Cozzen’s Cafe a few seconds earlier? “What if” you lived up to your responsibilities?
His is a bemused omniscient narrator, occasionally making fun of his own characters, many of whom remind me of characters in The Corrections or sometimes those written by Charles Dickens. Another reviewer has noted the unusual voice in this novel.
It is a tale of the malingering Theodore Gale (a/k/a Enoch Pnkl), perpetually in pursuit of his Ph.D. (and whatever skirts passed by):
“Ignoratio P. Elenchi was so obscure that no extant texts were unambiguously attributable to his authorship, and his magnum opus, Erucarium Ortus, was entirely lost to history.” Actually, I think the Birth of Caterpillars was penned by someone other than Ignoratio, but we will allow that to prosaic license. Jeffrey is an equal opportunity offender when it comes to political correctness He provides the crass plotting and overt sexism of Enoch and Maxey as they dream up strategies to get Enoch into Helen’s bed. Then there’s Jean Nepean, the serial bride, who loves ’em and leaves ’em, taking their fortunes with her. He has written a novel primarily about women, a brave undertaking. In putting words in the mouths of two teenaged girls and a prim, proper almost-buyer for a modest import company, he has managed to get it right most of the time.
It is a tale of the long-suffering Helen Faire (who possessed more vowels than Enoch); and of the mathematically correct Regina Gale; and of the tender-hearted “Dub” (the second daughter); and of Marvin Marvin, the problematic pooch; and of Attorney Bilker (the evil attorney); Doctor Scold and Melvin (the good attorney); and Maxey the menacing financier – oh and of Eddie Love.
Helen, however, is a most interesting character in that she can make a Sauerbraten or a Mackerel soufflé, leave the kitchen spotless, birth two children, review and critique her errant husband’s academic papers, minister to a sick dog and a sick father-in-law, work part-time and still have time to do the crossword puzzle. She is an unusual ’50s woman and I kept hearing Dolly Parton singing “9 to 5” in my mind’s ear.
But after all the humor and caricature, there is tenderness in this book as a mother and daughter learn to love and respect each other, the daughter gradually becoming a less pink copy of her mother, and the mother deciding that even after all the disappointments, her life had meaning. There is one good doctor (I won’t spoil the plot) and there is a least a nod to non-traditional medicine (although the author neglected the macrobiotic regimen). It is about the buffeting of the Gale family by the winds of deliberate action and of circumstance; it is about having hope; it is about dreaming of the Promised Land. This was a very good book.
Leila Smith, from The Kindle Book Review.
The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.