Elizabeth Poliner’s short story “Sabelle” was named a 2019 Nelson Algren Literary Award Finalist (one of three finalists out of over 3,000 stories) and published in the Chicago Review.
At her husband Manny’s funeral, Kaye hoped she hadn’t gone on too long with her eulogy but she had a feeling she did. Still, someone had to tell them—friends, relatives, his children, his grandchildren—how much she and Manny had meant to each other, how happy they’d been. They were at least as important to each other, as besotted with each other, as he had been with Sabelle, the original wife who’d died some dozen years ago. Since then—during their eight years together, the last three of which were formalized in marriage—Manny was Kaye’s, her one and only husband; he was and would always be the great love of her life. Someone had to tell them, to make this matter clear, because as soon as Manny died, Kaye realized, their marriage, as if made of a rising vapor rather than the solid earth of their companionable, middle-aged love, was quickly vanishing. Sabelle, his first love, the mother of his children, the person he’d slept with through the bliss and blitz of a long, fruitful, till-death-do-you-part marriage, was at the core of the other eulogies, the children’s, the long-term friends, people who couldn’t help but reference Manny’s life in terms of Sabelle’s. What was Kaye’s marriage compared with all that? The funeral was coming to a close and Manny was soon to be buried, but it seemed all too real to Kaye that Sabelle, oddly enough, had come back to life.
Click here to read the full story: Chicago Tribune
Photo Credit: Nelson Algren works at a typewriter May 24, 1956, for a Chicago American story after the 1956 release of “A Walk on the Wild Side.” (Arnold Tolchin/Chicago American)
From the Kafka Prize Committee
Although Elizabeth Poliner’s As Close to Us as Breathing takes place within the confines of a small seaside community, the story the novel tells is nothing short of epic. Unfolding over multiple generations of an American-Jewish family, Poliner’s work encompasses a world much larger than the one defined by its locale. The story is haunted by a very real death that occurs at the beginning of the book and forever alters the dynamic of the family, especially the relationship of the sisters Ada, Vivie and Bec. However, there is a melancholy to the novel, set in 1948, that seems rooted even deeper than the tragedy that befalls the family: in the horrors of the recently concluded second world war, the struggle at the settling of the Israeli state, or the stifling social roles the family has inherited from an old world left behind long ago. Religion and tradition have made decisions for the characters’ lives that are difficult to evade. Yet, there is also a grace to the prose that allows sunlight in. It is, after all, a beach novel and there are beaches, young love, baseball, vivid descriptions of family objects that are almost tactile. And, perhaps most significantly, it has a big, deep-beating human heart at its center that draws the reader in through empathy with the characters, who, like many of us, struggle to do what is expected of us, rather than what we desire.
About the Award
Since 1976, the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester have awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman. The idea for the prize came out of the personal grief of the friends and family of a fine young editor who was killed in an automobile accident just as her career was beginning to achieve its promise of excellence. She was 30 years old, and those who knew her believed she would do much to further the causes of literature and women. Her family, her friends, and her professional associates in the publishing industry created the endowment from which the prize is bestowed, in memory of Janet Heidinger Kafka and the literary standards and personal ideals for which she stood.
About the Committee
This year’s Committee members were:
Beth Jörgensen, Professor of Spanish, University of Rochester
Jason Peck, Visiting Assistant Professor of German, University of Rochester
Katherine Mannheimer, Associate Professor of English, University of Rochester
-Source: SUSAN B. ANTHONY INSTITUTE FOR GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND WOMEN’S STUDIES, http://www.sas.rochester.edu/gsw/news-events/kafka-prize/winner.html
On August 8, 2017 Elizabeth Poliner gave a book talk at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, in West Hartford, CT. The event was part of a podcast series called Grating the Nutmeg, for Connecticut Explored, Connecticut’s History Magazine.
“Listen to a recent book talk by author Elizabeth Poliner whose novel As Close to Us as Breathing takes us to the 1940’s when Connecticut’s beach colonies were segregated by ethnicity and religion. Poliner masterfully weaves the story of a multi-generational Jewish family and a fatal accident in 1948, all set in “Bagel Beach” a real Jewish beach colony in Milford, Connecticut. We also visit the Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont – the state’s only synagogue built as a summer synagogue.
You’ll be inspired to read this evocative novel and take a drive along CT’s shoreline to catch a glimpse of its early beach colonies in this episode of Grating the Nutmeg.”
We need your vote! As Close to Us as Breathing has been named a finalist for the 2017 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award for Fiction. The People’s Choice awards are given in both the Fiction and Nonfiction categories, and are voted on by the public via the Library of Virginia’s website.
VOTE NOW! Online voting begins on May 15, and will continue until July 15.