The essence of the progression of a life is an individual journey for each person. But the adventure needs to have a voice. And one that evolves within that structure. With “Bittersweet Brooklyn” [Thelma Adams/Lake Union Publishing/352pgs], the author has created a slice in time that is both nostalgic and heartbreaking, modern but yet old fashioned, tragic and yet oddly hopeful in its protagonist. Thelma grows up in Jewish family where she was the daughter that was a miracle but ultimately became a reminder of pain. She never knew her father who died before she was born. As a result her older sister takes control of the family to protect her mother but loathes her sister as if she is the cause of all their problems. The family dynamics especially set against the aspect of the late 1910s where the aspect of war swirls with the industrial revolution. Add the elements of Prohibition and the gangster era in NY with the focus here more on Williamsburg and what the reader gets is a dynamic vista view. That backdrop most of the time doesn’t intrude on Thelma’s world but its feeling is imprinted vividly. Thelma’s psychological perceptions are simple but so rich in many ways especially in her interaction with her brothers Abie and Louis. But the feeling is so much more. Like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, the world feels lived in and as Thelma grows older and through them, one gets a sense of her travails. The different elements of perception are elements that are both internal and external but definitively reflects a time and a thought pattern while also questioning the inherent nature of behavior, even her own. Her life is not wrapped up in a distinct bow but the way she interacts with its from the interstate on with an Italian family and the eventual rebuke of a romance because her family is “not right” to her whirlwind marriage that was doomed from the start but revels in the love it once had. Even in the ending structure, the beauty is in the lyricism of the life lived. Without giving it away, it has that classic element while being smart, romantic, inherently intelligent, ruthless and blindingly human. It is a gem.
By Tim Wassberg