Review: The Local News by Miriam Gershow

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Miriam Gershow’s debut novel, The Local News, is an excellent story narrated by 15 year old Lydia Pasternak, whose older brother Danny has mysteriously gone missing after shooting hoops with a couple of friends at the local elementary school.  

Lydia doesn’t exactly miss her brother right away.  Her feelings are complicated.  Danny and his football playing friends spent years picking on her and calling her names, but he’s still her brother, and she has good memories from when they were little kids.  Danny, athletic and loud, took up a lot of space in the family, and his absence in their lives is huge.  

Her parents are disconnected, drifting through the days in anguished grief.  They are hyper focused on finding their child- “Not you,” she tells herself; “their other child.”  Lydia feels forgotten at home.  It’s the opposite at school- everyone knows who she is. Even the most popular kids, the ones who never gave her the time of day before, suddenly want to know how she’s doing; what’s new with the investigation.  At times it seems she is who she is only in relation to her brother. 

Lydia has a nerdy friend, David, with whom she talks about world politics and other brainy topics.  David is her only friend who is all hers- completely independent of her brother.  She is comfortable with David until his attraction for her becomes obvious, and they drift apart as things get awkward between them.  She then starts hanging around with cheery Lola Pepper, an admirer of her brother and captain of the flag team, falling into the party scene Danny vacated.  

The Pasternaks hire a private investigator when the local police hit a wall with the case.  Lydia develops a crush on the PI and finds herself focused and energized; organizing and analyzing letters from strangers, looking for possible clues, going over mug shots, taking notes.  When the PI has exhausted most of the leads, he turns a suspicious eye on Lydia, freaking her out and turning her off. 

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice.  It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real.  I ached for Lydia, especially as she lay awake night after night listening to the silence in the next room, her brother’s bedroom.  I cried at one bittersweet interaction with her dad, when “for the first time in a long time, I remembered a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little bit back.”   And the end.. well, the end tore me up.  

The book is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, from the title to the cover (the same blue) to the subject matter.  In both we have families that are disintegrating over a missing loved one.  And I also thought about Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, a book with a similar story about the disappearance of a teen.  But I preferred The Local News to both those books.  The Local News is Lydia’s story and told from her perspective alone, while the others are told from several perspectives, including the missing teen.  I thought the single narration was a more effective, less diluted way to tell the story.  But the main reason I preferred The Local News is because at the end we get to see Lydia as an adult and understand how the loss of her brother continues to affect her relationships years later.  In the wake of Danny’s disappearance, life has been forever altered. 

Sharp, raw, and brilliantly written, this is a powerful book and one I can highly recommend.  

Please check out this terrific guest post from Miriam Gershow:  From Books to Babies.  To visit the author’s website, click HERE.  And check out Miriam’s TLC Book Tour for other reviews of The Local News.

From Books to Babies: How I Stumbled Upon the Biggest Decision of my Life

local-newsPlease welcome Miriam Gershow, author of The Local News, who has written this guest post as part of a TLC Book Tour!  Check back tomorrow for my review of this excellent debut novel!

For years, whenever anyone asked my mother when I planned to have children, she quoted a line I once told her: “Miriam needs to give birth to a book before she’ll give birth to a child.”  It was one of those lines I had said so off-handedly and so long ago, I barely even remembered it.  But my mother held onto it.  I think it reassured her as she waited through my twenties and then my early thirties, as she watched me get married at 35, as my husband and I bought a house and got a cat, and did all the things newly married couples were supposed to do.   

Well, almost all the things. 

My mother, like any good Jewish mother, awaited word of a coming grandchild, or, short of that, at least some a hint of interest from our end.  But at a time when the ticking of my biological clock should have been a base drum booming in my ears, it was barely even a tick. 

Because that line I had so casually tossed to my mother years before was true.  All my life, I have wanted to be a writer.  I dabbled in it through my twenties–writing bad stories and worse novels, joining writing groups, sharing my work with anyone willing to look at it.  At thirty, I returned to school for an MFA in fiction.  After graduating, I committed to writing as my honest-to-goodness job.  During the day, I took an adjunct instructor position at a university.  Whenever I wasn’t teaching, I wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  I began the arduous, one-step-forward-two-steps-back process of forging a fiction career.  I won a prestigious writing fellowship.  I was paralyzed by writer’s block for most of that fellowship.  I got a handful of stories published in literary journals.  I got dozens and dozens more stories rejected. I finished a short story collection.  I found an enthusiastic agent, who tried to sell that collection.  The collection never sold. 

miriam_gershow_portraitThrough this all, I could not conceive of conceiving a child.  Trying to get my writing published was already a full time job on top of a full time job.  I couldn’t fathom a third job–and one as life-altering and paradigm-changing as becoming a parent.  

And then a funny thing happened:  I wrote a novel and I sold that novel.  After fifteen years of trying, I had done it.  I had finally birthed a book. 

So now what?  

At first, nothing changed.  If anything, I was more consumed in my writing then ever. I was working with an editor and on-deadline for the first time.  My life was all about the panic, pressure and excitement of revisions.  There was no aching in my loins.  There was no longing for a child in my arms.  

But then an even funnier thing happened.  I finished the revisions, took a few months off, and began work on my next novel.  As I sat in front of my computer, I found I was a little bored.  A little restless.  This never happened with my writing.  My writing was always what centered me, what kept me sane and balanced and happy.  For the first time ever, I had the feeling of having already done this, of retracing my own steps.  I was not excited.  And it hit me, distinctly and undeniably: 

I’m ready to try something different.  I’m ready for whatever comes next. 

Without particular fanfare or panic or even those aching loins I’d been waiting for, I realized I was ready to have a baby.  I was ready to alter my life and change my paradigm.  The idea actually excited me.  Suddenly, I just knew.  If my writing career had been a long, slow process, with me concertedly hammering out each step of the path before me, then the decision to have a child was far more instinctual, percolating quietly beneath the surface until bursting through one day, clear and resolute. 

I am now two months away from my due date.  My novel came out four months ago. I’m still at work on the next novel and no longer bored by it.  Pregnancy has proven to be a creative wellspring; I’m bursting with ideas.  I know my life as a writer is about to change in ways I cannot even fathom.  I know everything is about to change radically and irrevocably.  For many years, the idea of such a change filled me with–at best–apathy, and–at worst–all-out dread. Now, though, I embrace it.  Surely, I’m about to stumble into the most rigorous juggling act of my life, but, to my own amazement, I’m up for it. 

My mother already has her plane ticket booked.  She arrives three weeks after the baby’s due date.  Briefly, my husband and I toyed with the idea of telling relatives to wait a few months before visiting, so we could have a long stretch of time alone with our baby.  But then we changed our minds; my mother, we figured, had waited long enough.

Blogger Bio:  Miriam Gershow is a novelist, short story writer and teacher. Her debut novel, The Local News, was published in February 2009. It has been called “deftly heartbreaking” with “urgency and heft” by The New York Times, as well as “an accomplished debut” (Publisher’s Weekly) with a “disarmingly unsentimental narrative voice,” (Kirkus Reviews).

A QUESTION for all you moms out there:  Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you knew you were ready for parenthood?