As a young Jewish boy growing up in Philadelphia, a dozen years younger than his older, musical, brother and sister, Fred is an outsider. After his older brother’s death shatters the family, he puts his head down to work hard, earning a scholarship to college, and ultimately making his way in the world as a lawyer.
Fred’s life changes when he marries a spoiled rich girl, winning her away from her family’s friend. That friend, and ultimately Fred’s rival, uses one of Fred’s cufflinks in a scheme to destroy his life, ultimately separating him from his family, including his young daughter, Lydia. So Fred starts over, eventually creating a second family, with his new wife and their daughter, Samantha.
Throughout the book, and two generations, the relationship choices made by the female characters fade them and wear them down, with the result that most of them become mere shadows of themselves. Even Fred’s younger daughter Samantha experiences this, until she learns to break the destructive pattern.
At 581 pages, there’s enough material in THE CUFFLINK to fill several books. Any section of Fred or Samantha’s life could have been broken down and explored on its own: Fred’s childhood struggles with his elder siblings; his first marriage and its unjust dissolution due to his rival’s scheme; his sister’s unhappy marriage and death; Samantha’s discovery of her elder half-sister’s existence; how that strains the relationship between Samantha and her daughter; Samantha’s emerging strength.
By including everything, author Susan Bolch allows nothing enough room to breathe. Time transitions are awkward. There are sections of info dumps to give background and backstory instead of integrated action. Too much is explained and too little shown. Sentence structure is often convoluted, and adverbs are used as emotional shorthand instead of action. With so many points of view, some only appearing for a couple of scenes, the narrative becomes diluted. Is this Fred’s story? Samantha’s story?
While there is is lyricism mixed in some of the writing–illuminating small, beautiful moments–Susan Bolch’s THE CUFFLINK is too often smothered by the sheer volume of plot and story.
~Eva Schegulla for IndieReader