Into the Wilderness reviewed by fran lewis


Into the Wilderness

Author: Deborah Lee Luskin

Reviewed by Fran Lewis

Rose is a feisty woman of 64 who has not given up on life. After all life does begin at any age and as long as you have tons of kick in you, go for it. Rose loses her second husband and her family wants to transport her from Florida to visit in a rustic, Vermont country house. Lacking all the comforts of home, Rose feels like a fish out of water and has to learn to adapt to an entirely new way of life.  Author Deborah Lee Luskin brings to light in her novel “ In the Wilderness,” many issues that people have to face when losing a spouse or loved one. Added to that are the fantastic Yiddish phrases and words that my mother and grandmother taught me growing up and you have a novel that warms this reader’s heart.

Rose Mayer and Percy Mendell are both 64- year years old. Rose married and widowed twice, Percy, never married. Percy’s love of music and Rose’s love of life mix well together in the story and will make you both laugh and cry. Rose learned at an early age to sew and could create designs in her mind for a hat or garment without a blueprint. She loved listening to music and dancing when she joined the Settlement House with some friends as a young girl. As the author allows the reader to flashback to Rose’s childhood and upbringing we come face to face with the many obstacles and barriers her father placed in front of her.

As an adult she is opinionated and expresses herself in all areas from politics, to gardening homegrown vegetables to her granddaughter eating candy thrown on the street. She is one interesting woman at age 64 but so is Percy one opinionated and interesting man. Without realizing it they have so many interests in common and allowing nature to work its magic the author engulfs the reader into the lives of these two people.

Rose becomes involved with other women in a Stitch and Bitch group which in Jewish means( Kvetch and Krechtz) to complain and sigh if translated correctly. Everyone is allowed to complain and state their opinions about anything and no compliments of any kind for men. How much fun is that! Whether 1964 right after Kennedy was assassinated or 2010, people really never change. Both Percy and Rose love classical music but from their own perspectives. Going to concerts one listening from the outside and the other venturing inside the hall, the character’s true feelings are revealed as the author allows each one to flashback to the past and reflect on the present.

With divergent viewpoints from politics, to music to their polar opposite personalities, Rose and Percy take the reader on journey into the lives of two people who in my opinion are young at heart.

As concert pianist and violinist growing up I loved reading about the composers, their work, the history behind their compositions and the character’s interpretations of the music. Music is soothing, relaxing, uplifting and brings a smile to your face and can make the impossible seem so much easier to handle as it engulfs you into the sounds of the instruments and the voices that you hear when you are listening.

Growing up with grandparents that kept a kosher home with two sinks, two sets of soap and following the dietary laws described by Rose in this novel, I felt that I was reliving part of my childhood. But, my grandmother did not take the word of the kosher butcher that the meat was Glot Kosher when he finished koshering it. To explain the taste of too much salt, I remember that she rekoshered the meat when she got home for another three or four hours using Kosher Salt.

As the author recounts the events of Rose’s past and the divergent opinions that alienated her and her father, she tells a sad story of a young girl who never really fit in. Now, living alone in Vermont and trying to find her own roots and a place she could call home, Rose comes full circle with the help of one special man, Percy.

Added to the mix you will meet Sally, Irma and the wonderful people of Orton, Vermont who you will come to know and love. From canning, to quilting to just plain straight talk, Rose begins a new phase in her life as Percy does when he finally lets go the heartache from his past and begins anew in the present. I had to learn the Hannon’s scales and transpose them into every key both major and minor. As Percy struggled with many Beethoven’s Inventions and learning to play the scales at 90 using the metronome, I smiled as I heard my mom’s voice, telling me to practice my piano and violin after doing my homework.

The story told from two points of view Rose and then Percy the author goes back and forth allowing the reader to understand why each came to make the choices in their lives in the past and now in the present. If they come together you will have to read for yourself. Roses relationship with her family now and in the past you will understand after you read it.  Rose tells you in her own words about her father, his rules and her life and Percy relates his life with his sister Addie and losing Lila, his first love.  But, let’s not forget Wilson Nye who is ever the Don Juan, the politician and a crooked businessman that tries to befriend Rose and eliminate Percy as competition.

With an ending that will surprise you and two people that will totally amaze you, let it be known from this point on that life begins at any age and no one is ever too old to find happiness. Will Rose and Percy ever find a common ground? Will Rose decide to leave and live with Manny and his wife or go back to Florida? This is a story about new friendships that will last a lifetime, woman who is trying to make her own roots, and a town filled with people that you will love. Many might call Vermont and their way of life The Wilderness. No public transportation, walking great distances to get what you need and people that even make their own home made bread and can their own vegetables, this is a town that everyone needs to visit to understand the true meaning of friendship and more. Will Rose and Percy find the naches, mazel and glik they deserve? Rose is a smart woman with a strong Yiddishe Kup! Filled with Yiddish expressions and tons of Yiddishkeit in the mix, this novel brings two worlds together teaching strong lessons in how people of different faiths and beliefs can come together as one. Rose and Percy will take the reader on a backward journey into the 60’s and hopefully fast forward these lessons into the present.

Thank you for giving me the honor of reviewing this heartwarming and wonderful novel.

Fran Lewis: reviewer

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