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Doorstopper: David Grossman’s “To the End of the Land”

Ah, the year’s first thunk: David Grossman’s “To the End of the Land.” So lauded, so bloated. To invest in ($26.95) and lug around (576 pages) one would expect, and should receive, a Franzen.

In its simplest form, this is the story of an Israeli woman who gathers up her son’s father and takes him hiking and camping the length of the country. During their journey, Ora describes to Avram the adult son, now serving in the Israeli army, he has never met.

Heartbreaking? I wish.

Their son’s name is Ofer. We learn about his birth, his feeding at the breast, his first steps, his early shift to vegetarianism, his …blah blah blah. Worse, we learn first about the family Ora and Ilan made, with baby Adam.

Babies are fascinating: to their parents. Reading this, I felt like I was stuck on a long car ride with a chatty mom bragging about her precocious kids.

Why keep reading? To find out if Ofer survives, if Avram rejoins the living, if Ora and Avram reunite.

Too, I was hopeful the hike would offer some comedy. Ora is a middle-aged, twice abandoned housewife, unnerved by her son’s presence in the army. Avram is an out-of-shape pill popper who has given up on life. What are these two doing in the woods?

The hike is the frame for the story, which reads like a hodgepodge of memories. llan abandoning Ora and newborn Adam. Avram’s tortured body returned by the Egyptians. Avram loves Ora, who pines for Ilan, who’s disinterested. Ora is Avram’s girlfriend, fucking Ilan. Ora is Ilan’s wife, fucking Avram. Ew.

I expected to be chilled by their everyday life. After all, Israel is perpetually at war and their parents are Hitler’s survivors. Grossman shows us Ora and Ilan standing over their newborn wondering if they’ve created another warrior for the state. Ora’s mother tearing at her flesh, hating herself for not being taken by Hitler. Ofer telling his mother to leave Israel if he is killed.

Themes raised, left unexplored.

Like a needle stuck in an LP, over and over and over we’re trapped within the the same triangle: Ora and Ilan and Avram, and the children they created.

Anyone want my copy? No backs.

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