The Two-Family HouseThe Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Two-Family House is an engaging, quick read I could not put down. My own mother and aunt and their two husbands lived in a similar setup in Brooklyn in the 1950s. After my parents moved to Queens, Long Island in 1958 to raise their growing family, we visited the two-family Brooklyn house each Christmas when I was a young child. There I witnessed an easy, open flow of activity and communication between my aunt’s and cousin’s respective families living upstairs and downstairs.

Such was the nature of things between sisters-in-law and best friends Ruth and Helen—married to brothers Mort and Abe—until that fateful night when they gave birth simultaneously during “The Great Blizzard of 1947” (an historical storm that dumped over 25 inches of snow on New York City in less than 24 hours). Okay, I realize it’s a hoaky and unrealistic premise, but it is a necessary “suspension of disbelief” if we are to accept what transpires next: Mort and Ruth have only daughters, and Mort is gruff and resentful because he longs for a son. Conveniently, Abe and Helen have only sons. One of the women gives birth to another girl; the other, a boy—you see where this is going. The “Christmas-esque” birth-in-a-blizzard provides the obvious yet totally far-fetched foundation of this story. We, as readers, "go along" in order to experience how each of the characters implodes under the weight of the women's secret.

Speaking of characters, even knowing the unspoken “spoiler” from go (it’s not difficult to figure out), Ruth is so perplexing, odious, and incomprehensible, she is perhaps the most fascinating of the lot. Mort can be flat and one-dimensional, whereas Helen and Abe are angelic to a fault. The four of them comprise a kitschy Motley crew. As for their collective brood of nine, other than Judith, Teddy and Natalie (who are the focal point at the child level), I couldn’t keep the offspring straight. When the author introduces in-laws Sol and Arlene and their son, Johnny (on Helen’s side) and Aunt Faye (on Ruth’s), I thought my head would explode—and that was before the kids grow up and start to marry, resulting in even more spouses and in-laws to keep track of. But the many well-paced ups and downs, spats and snubs, and one huge tragedy along the way glue the whole thing together and kept me hooked from beginning to end.

My only other observation is the running monologue. Though the story ostensibly shifts point-of-view with each new chapter (as indicated by the chapter titles), this is a rather “tell-y” affair whose “voices” seem to blur into a single narrative by an all-knowing storyteller. It can become confusing at times—like the chapter where Abe tells what his wife, Helen, is smelling in the back seat of the car. I don’t know whether this was meant as a form of literary stylization or if the story needs further editing. Either way, despite this shortcoming, The Two-Family House “works” in a delightfully campy way that never falls flat or loses momentum.

Thank you to NetGalley for sending me the egalley version for review.

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