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Peter Orner
Love and Shame and Love

Little, Brown / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-12939-8
Publication Date: 11-07-2011
440 Pages; $24.99
Date Reviewed: 12-12-2011
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Index:  General Fiction

Books are by virtue of the nature of reading future-oriented. If a book is going to get read, if the pages are going to get turned, the author has to make us anticipate a future where reading will provide us with pleasure. The "page-turner" is generally thought to be a plot-heavy, thought-lite thriller, where the anticipation comes from wanting to find out what happens next, usually in chronological order. Peter Orner's 'Love and Shame and Love' manages to be a compelling page-turner even as he tells his compelling story with a non-linear narrative. Orner's writing is so fine, his story is so true, that we as readers anticipate, and are given, pleasure with every page we read, even though the novel and story are entirely unstuck in time.

'Love and Shame and Love' spans four generations, veers from World War Two to the late nineties, and is set in Chicago, also a major character in the novel. Alexander Popper is the youngest scion of the Popper family, and the novel is a series of scenes from his life and his family's past wound loosely around his story. Politics of all kinds — family, city and national — figure into Popper's entertaining lives. Orner's plots offer glimpses not just of his family, but of a nation as it shifts and struggles through much of the 20th century.

The appeal, the tidal pull of this novel, comes from Orner's pixilated storytelling style. The chapters are beguilingly short, sometimes, when they are letters from Alex Popper's grandfather, only a paragraph long. It does not matter who we are visiting or when, because Orner's prose is so funny and so smart, so readable, that we are happy to turn any page, knowing that we'll find a story, a snippet, an anecdote that will delight us and add another tile to a mosaic whose outlines, we become confident, are well worth waiting for.

Orner's novel is a Jewish family saga that is chock-a-block with characters who come to live with the reader as well with one another. That is, when they are not fighting, or getting divorced, or being sent off to war. Orner's grandfather Seymour is a particular delight; his letters are concentrated doses of longing, love and fear, so craftily written that the single paragraph does the work of pages of prose. Orner's characters live surprisingly political lives, and this thread stands out, makes the novel seem more urgent, more realistic than perhaps even the world around the reader.

'Love and Shame and Love' is a novel that reads lightly, breezily, but the ring of truth at the center of Orner's prose poetry gives the work that gravitic, tidal pull. The illustrations by Orner's brother Eric Orner, add a lovely layer of poignant loneliness. Ultimately, readers can see in the skill, in the love, in the shame and joy that Orner writes of so well, a sort of solution to the mystery of where all this writing is going and why. In the piecemeal pasts of Popper's life, we can see our own pasts coalescing. As 'Love and Shame and Love' hurtles forward, each page brings with it a new reason to look forward into the future, and when we run out of Orner's pages, there are always, we realize, our own.

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