Alterations Book Review
Source: Dan's Papers
Reviewer: Joan Baum
Review Date: June 20, 2013
Alterations, by Rita Plush (Penumbra Publishing), who’s had a house in East Hampton for over 25 years, is a great collection of stories in which the author shifts from a group of domestic tales full of Yiddishkeit (“Brooklyn Brisket” is the first offering), starting with a young girl (the author moves easily from third to first person point of view), to five linked stories that conclude the volume and evidence Plush’s skill in creating a male point of view. The talks, which originally appeared in various literary magazine, stand alone, but as a collection “come full circle” as explorations of a common theme—the aching need for family. Plush knows when not to resolve delusions or disappointments and when to leave readers with an open-ended, haunting sense of curiosity. As Jack Paul in the concluding stories muses, “When you had it in your mind [people] knew only one song, they turned around and sang you two others.” Life’s like that; ragged, leaving you more times than not waiting for an expected or hoped for denouement which may or may not come.
All 18 stories in the collection (is this number an accident? In Hebrew, the symbol “18,” or chai means living) imaginatively and cleverly explore how characters are altered by their circumstances—some heartbreakingly so. Will there be a dry eye after reading “Love, Mona?” Plush manages to integrate specialty lore here, about woodworking, not to mention the wholesale clothing business and interior design industry. She also knows how to capture attention immediately, as seen in the opening of “The Blatts”—“When I was a teenager and knew everything, I lived with my family in a modest plastic slip-covered house between two neighborhoods: one very expensive, the other run down". Each detail opens up as the story develops.
The wonder of these stories is how Plush constructs different characters and situations with ear-perfect rhythms and silences and fashion images that spot-on reflect various cultures, classes and ages. Then, again, those who have read Plush’s novel Lily Steps Out (2012) with its richly drawn complex central character who finds her voice and identity after years of going along, it’s no wonder. In the last tale, "Feminine Products,” Lily makes a welcome cameo.
I am an author, teacher and interior designer. Before my short stories were published as the collection Alterations (Penumbra 2013) they appeared in many literary journals including The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iconoclast, The MacGuffin and Passager. I am also the author of Lily Steps Out (Penumbra 2012), the novel of a middle-aged woman who, sick of making beds and cooking meals, steps out of the comfortable domestic life she knows into the business world. I have lectured on interior design and the decorative arts at libraries throughout Long Island, at Hofstra University and CW Post-Hutton House. As the Coordinator of the Interior Design & Decorating Certificate at Queensborough Community College, I teach several courses in the program.