Karen Karbo
September 17, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Reisman’s accomplished first novel opens in 1929 with the disappearance of Goldie Cohen, eldest daughter of a middle-class Jewish family in Buffalo. Beloved mother Rebecca has just died, and punitive patriarch Abe has taken up with one of recent literature’s most sympathetic floozies, Lillian Schumacher. The remaining Cohen siblings — properly married-off Sadie; seething Jo, who harbors a secret fantasy life; mentally unstable Celia; and handsome ne’er-do-well Irving — spend decades pining for connection but staggering beneath the weight of tradition and the secret tyranny of a family suffocating with resentment. Reisman’s sumptuous prose, and her canny knowledge of the corrosive ways an average family can come apart, make The First Desire a lovely, absorbing companion.

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