Academic journal article Shofar

Leaving This Life Behind, by Howard Levine

Academic journal article Shofar

Leaving This Life Behind, by Howard Levine

Article excerpt

Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 2000. 250 pp. $14.95.

I'm frozen with horror. Then, just as suddenly, I'm beyond that: I'm with my mother in our Queens apartment, learning how to rig up a sanitary belt; I'm marrying Paul in the Bronx County courthouse; I'm visiting my emaciated father in the hospital. These events and others are superimposed upon each other in a timeless instant, a distillation of my life. My consciousness is unlocked from sequence, free from terror.

Sharon Galdoni, one of the protagonists in Howard Levine's innocuous novel Leaving This Life Behind, is just like you: she detests Mondays, loathes the nerve-jangling drive in to work, and resents the invasion of privacy that comes with riding the NYC subway.

Little else about Sharon is appealing or even mildly endearing: Sharon is whiny and sarcastic, disappointed with her lot and bitter. She carps but is rarely clever about it, making her the last person you'd want to be stranded talking to at a dinner party. Neither fate nor time seem to be on Sharon's side.

The plot centers around the raising of Sharon's infant son after an automobile accident claims Sharon's life. The burden of rearing the lad falls on her feckless husband Paul, who might be better suited for bartending than parenting: he has a singular talent for embracing his inner frat-boy, often reaching for the bottle before the clock even strikes noon.

Sharon's death enables her to inhabit the specters of her deceased matrilineage, and she connects with what had been, before her accident, a vague and formless past. Looking down from the firmament, Sharon is able to observe, with hindsight-like clarity, the goings-on of her husband and son. She is tortured by what she sees.

Her husband kills time by smoking and boozing rather than attending to their son's development, which is arrested in the pre-language phase, even as the boy approaches toddlerhood. Worse even, Paul launches into a wholly implausible affair with his son's preschool teacher Cheryl: he had pined for her even when his wife was alive, and she, apparently charmed by his slovenliness and lack of ambition, falls for him soon after his wife's death.

Both characters wax introspective as the book plods on. The problem is that most of their inner broodings are neither interesting nor original. The dipsomaniacal Paul regrets the day he picked up the bottle. Shocking. …

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