They May Not Mean to But They Do

Cataloging Specialist Jan Hardy reviews Cathleen Schine's "They May Not Mean To, But They Do" for the latest "Back in the Stacks" blog post:

Growing older, taking care of an aging spouse, learning to live alone -- I don’t know how Cathleen Schine wrings humor from these experiences, but she does. They May Not Mean To, But They Do is filled with hilarious and very human details, and it is a novel I savored.

The story opens with a brief New York family history, coming down to Joy and her husband Aaron who suffers from bladder cancer and dementia. Joy tends to Aaron with wry patience. In one of the first scenes, Aaron’s repetitious questioning annoys his wife to the point where she finally says mildly, “If you ask me that one more time, I’m putting a bag over your head.” Anyone who has taken care of an elderly person knows that impulse, but a tender moment immediately follows, setting up the interplay between sarcasm and sentiment that continues throughout the book.

Cathleen Schine draws the characters so clearly that each can narrate the story from their point of view, sometimes within a few paragraphs, without any confusion for the reader. In New York, Daniel, the hardworking, perpetually exhausted son, his wife Coco, and their precocious young daughters Ruby and Cora could be a novel in themselves. Ruby accidentally injures a rabbi, an incident which propels her to become fascinated with the family’s ancestors and with Judaism. She begins to study for her bat mitzvah, to her mostly non-observant family’s surprise.

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