I chatted this week with Minneapolis transplant and MOT Kate Ledger, first-time author of Remedies: A Novel, which was just released in paperback this summer (and chosen as the community read at the 2009 Twin Cities Book Fair).
The book follows two self-obsessed Jews, one a doctor, the other a public relations expert, as they mess up their work, lives and relationships, and then try to piece everything back together (with the help of some moving Kol Nidre prayers, among other things). Once you get past the gratuitous sex scene on page two, the book launches brilliantly and beautifully. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. reading the last 100 pages.
Obviously, I had quite a few questions for the author.
Was Judaism a part of your identity growing up?
My grandparents on one side of the family lived in the Bronx, attended an orthodox shul, and kept separate sets of dishes, but my parents’ home in Philadelphia was secular. Even [though our home was secular], my parents decided to send me to Jewish day school, which I attended all the way through high school. My parents had a sense that Jewish education, which they hadn’t received, would be a means to Jewish identity. I’m not observant today, but I have a strong Jewish identity. I’m culturally connected to Judaism and at times of change, newness, and also uncertainty in my life – getting married, having children – that connection has been very important to me.
Why did you decide to make the characters in Remedies Jewish?
REMEDIES is about a family’s struggle to heal from tragedy. In some families, religion becomes the natural and helpful means to cope with life’s hardships. But what happens to a family that’s lost the thread of religion? What happens to the next generation after assimilation? What tools does that generation have when ritual and community are gone and the very worst happens? I didn’t decide to make the characters Jewish as a tag-on to the story. The Bears are American Jews who are secular because the generations before them chose to shed their Jewishness. They’re bereft of the pillars of tradition and ritual and they’ve lost touch with community. Their experience as secular Jews is an integral part of their particular struggle.
How does the presence of Judaism in the story line and characters’ lives affect the plot and the characters’ decision-making throughout?
Because the Bears are so distant from their Jewish heritage, when rituals arise, they don’t recognize them as helpful. They’re at a loss. But having cut themselves off from Jewish experience, they have only each other for solace. And yet this is a couple that has difficulty sharing grief, so they wind up individually stranded. My feeling is that we all have within us a kind of magnet that pulls us through hard times toward a place of healing. Simon may not know why he’s drawn to attend Kol Nidre services – in fact he goes to services believing he’s looking for his friends – but that core of his identity pulls him toward the one place he’ll discover the words that will make sense to him, where the most crucial message will penetrate and direct him toward recovery.
Kate is currently working on her second book. Keep an eye open for her upcoming posts about health & Judaism (two of her passions) here at TC Jewfolk.