“Susan Pashman’s book does what Sue Miller’s “The Good Mother” did for an earlier era. It exposes the tensions beneath polite, contented liberal society and how they can explode when something goes wrong. Well observed and heartbreaking.”
Hanna Rosin, Contributing Editor, The Atlantic; Double X Founding Editor, Slate; Author of The End of Men: And the Beginning Of Women.
“What if The Bonfire of the Vanities was set in the present time and told from a woman’s perspective? Upper West Side Story gives you an irresistible answer.”
Lara Vapnyar is the author of Memoirs of a Muse; There Are Jews In My House; and The Scent of Pine.
“Susan Pashman handles a tough and vital subject with unusual daring and sensitivity. Upper West Side Story is a gripping novel.”
Hilma Wolitzer, best-selling author of An Available Man, Hearts, and The Doctor’s Daughter.
“New York neighborhoods, New York parenthoods, race…Susan Pashman’s powerful story of a fracturing family in a fractured city is fraught with understanding.”
Peter Behrens, award-winning author of The Law of Dreams and The O”Briens.
Meet Bettina Grosjean, a professor of Women’s History, and her husband, a high-ranking environmental policymaker in the New York City mayor’s office. Once a pair of student radicals, they are now raising their two brainy children on New York’s Upper West Side.
As a young man, Dr. Nathan Kline enjoys excellent health, good looks, and a prestigious Park Avenue practice. He is blesssed with a beautiful wife, abundant friends and two young daughters who adore him. But who ever appreciates what comes so easily? “We take notice of our lives only when something is amiss, when the engine falters and something is found wanting.”
A riff on a headline in The New York Times about a refrigeration failure at a laboratory where brains of autistics were being stored for study.
Appeared in Pendulium, Spring, 2013.
Short memoir about finding a cousin after fifty years and the recording our grandfather made of a Yiddish lullabye seventy years ago.
Appeared in Arcadia Magazine, Spring 2013.
Her long marriage having just ended, her three daughters having left to visit their father, Cora finds herself facing Christmas alone for the very first time. She is so fearful, of the days ahead that she hardly notices the plumber who comes to repair a bathroom problem. But when he says he’ll have to come back to finish the work the day after Christmas, she clings to that as a way to get through the holiday.
Appeared in Midway Journal, December 2011.
The narrator’s parents, both psychotherapists, lost their first son in a horrific accident in Iraq. They found their way through their grief and then published a book about that journey. The book made them famous: two happy, successful therapists, rolling in dough. But what happened to the other son, the one who lived?Appeared in the Indiana Review, Winter 2012.
This zany tale spun out of me when I was presented with Leger’s painting of three plump women luxuriating on a sofa. I imagined them as three of a set of quadruplets and wondered why they were no longer “a complete set”. The story becomes a riff on the notion of identicality, from the fascinating facts of multiple births to a consideration of Andy Warhol’s “mass produced” silk screen prints. Appeared in The Portland Review, Spring 2007.
The title is simply brilliant: it sets the stage through precedent, referring to and building upon a classic story but providing a different twist. The author wondered if society could truly adopt a colorblind vision; and thus was born the novel she presents here, grown solidly on the roots of American social and racial reality.
The premise is simple: a liberal, Upper West Side white family is changed when their son Max’s black best friend Cyrus dies in a school field trip accident, affecting not only two families and their close relationship, but sparking a fire in two very different communities.
In one terrible October moment when everything changes, two mothers find their friendship, their grief, and their families assume political overtones as events spiral out of control and evolve quickly from individual processes to community interactions.
The first thing to note about this process is Pashman’s attention to dialogue and racial observation; both of which are cutting edge and pull no punches in their first-person revelations: “Then Louis said, “Cyrus not gonna let no snowflake beat him, no way. He not no friend with no wimpy-ass neither. No way!” Louis and those other guys speak perfectly good English but when they hang out in the schoolyard, they start talking black. Black kids in the Special Enrichment Program are always checking themselves out to make sure other black kids don’t think they’re turning white just from being in our class. And that’s pretty bizarro because only four kids in our class actually are white.”
In part due to her protagonist’s chatty first-person observational tone, readers are readily drawn into events and the emotion driving them – and, it’s this attention to emotion that fuels the fire of prejudice, grief, reconciliation, and ultimately redemption.
It’s hard to find a novel so candid in its portrayals; so hard-hitting in its examples, and so realistic. The dialogues parents and children share over poverty, loss, racial prejudice and observation, are shining examples of what transpires in many an American home to explain the incongruities of not only racial interactions, but the effects of poverty: “When his father left the table, his mother drew a chair up beside him. In a weary voice she said, “They’re poor people, Stevie. That makes them very angry. They’re so angry they do silly things like wreck a perfectly nice bike that they could enjoy. The older boy didn’t get much money either. It’s a child’s bike; what could he get? They do these things because they’re angry.”
Crime and punishment, truth and lies, divided communities and divided lives: it’s all here, bound together by friendship, loss, and a boy’s experiences which lead him to form a bigger goal in life. Upper West Side Story is the kind of novel that reaches out and grabs you with familiarity – and once you begin its journey, you can’t quit. It’s that compelling.
With the wry, subtle style of Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield and Mary McCarthy, Susan Pashman examines the intense drama that occurs between human beings who, for all their intimacy, couldn’t be further apart. Their drama is frightening not because we know it so well but because no one is strong enough to withstand its sight for too long. Susan Pashman’s gaze is at once humorous, tactful and lyrical — but it is, as is anyone’s who wields a scalpel into the human heart, quite ruthless, the way only love and friendship can be ruthless.
Author of Out of Egypt and Five White Nights
A precise and troubling portrait of a smug and cultured man who doesn’t recognize his own despair … A vivid cautionary tale about the seductions and emptiness of a life in which conquest stands in for love
This book began during a single week with two disturbing conversations. The first, over a Thanksgiving dinner, was with a cousin who exclaimed gleefully that four “disadvantaged” black children had just been admitted to his son’s class for gifted children; he was delighted that his son would be “enriched” by getting to know kids who are not like himself.
I, alone, was irritated by this news. How, I wondered, would this cousin feel if his son were chosen to be one of four white children in an all-black school, participating in a program to provide black children with an opportunity to get to know kids who were not like them?
Several days later, I had a chance to find out. Over pizza with an old friend, I learned that she had decided to enroll her child in a local public school where he would be one of very few white students. He would be in a “special enrichment” class, she said, and so she was certain his education would not be compromised. She was very proud to be doing what she could to advance the liberal social agenda she and her husband had fought for as student radicals.
“But you are using your own child to advance your own politics,” I cried.
“I have to do what I can,” was her rejoinder.
I lay awake that night wondering about these two very well-intentioned parents. Well into the wee hours, I thought about what could go wrong. Mostly, what I came up with had nothing to do with the children involved; children were, as their parents assumed, blank slates who could become the colorblind people their parents were hoping for. But the adults who were their parents: Could they be counted on to abandon old resentments and distrust? If some small crisis developed, would the parents be as advanced in their thinking and actions as they hoped their children would be?
The next morning, I began this novel.
I was beaming with joy as I watched Barack Obama stride out onto that platform in Chicago on the glorious night when he proclaimed victory in his first presidential election. But, tempering my pleasure, was the thought that the election of America’s first black president probably spelled doom for my book. Racial tensions were about to be resolved; the era of racial strife was about to end.
I am not happy to discover that what I had suspected all along has, indeed, come to pass, and that we are no closer now to a colorblind society than we were when I started this novel. We have raised our children, as the novel’s narrator says, “in a whole new way,” but the grown-ups have simply not caught up with the ideals they so hopefully taught to their children.
There is so much left to do. Actually, we are only just getting started.
Susan Pashman is a philosophy professor and former attorney. While in law school, she served a year in the New York City Council President’s office; some of what she learned there has found its way into this story. But most of this book derives from her experience of raising two boys on her own in Brooklyn. Many of her sons’ childhood exploits, and the hopes and fears she had for them, became the heart of this novel.
She now resides in Sag Harbor, New York, with her husband, Jack Weinstein.