three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-FirstDesireGoldie Cohen’s disappearance from her Buffalo, New York home is as much a source of frustration for her family as it is for grief. Goldie, 33, the oldest of five siblings and the only one born in their native Russia, has managed the Cohen household since the death of her mother. Told from the different perspectives of the Cohen children, First Desire shows how Goldie’s sudden absence forces the family to reassign responsibilities. But, more importantly, it provides the impetus for patriarch Abe Cohen and his children to examine their barren, estranged lives.
Pantheon. 320 pages. $24. ISBN: 0375423087

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The First Desire is studious in its avoidance of the histrionic. Reisman finds more than adequate richness in the internal perspective. … Her novel implies that dealing with one’s parents and family, and proceeding through the seven ages, are drama enough." Elsbeth Lindner

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"It all sounds grim, but therein lies Reisman’s genius. She has produced a book that generates its own world and holds the reader captive, willingly, to its landscape." Marianne Wiggins

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
This is a dangerous way to write. In excess it can lead to the vapors. It can generate precious, hypersensitive raptures that obscure other meaning. But Ms. Reisman is artful and careful in ways that keep the pressure, the strangeness, the fizzing, the quivering and the ‘hot vague stillness’ at bay." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The First Desire is a book of rhythms and reveries but not of revelations, a story in which people can share, for decades, a house, a history and little else. … Reisman evokes the shutters put up by solipsism rather too well; for all its quiet wisdom, The First Desire doesn’t admit quite enough light." Sarah Churchwell

Critical Summary

Critics generally applaud The First Desire as a triumph of style over substance—not that the novel lacks emotional depth. Rather, it’s Reisman’s ability to enliven a dark, forbidding story with skillful writing that critics viewed as a great accomplishment. Her use of a serial narrative betrays a hint of Reisman’s skill for short fiction (her collection House Fires won the 1999 Iowa Short Fiction Award), but it is never a disservice to the story. In fact, the author’s ability to inhabit multiple characters is widely praised. Though The First Desire is not for fans of picaresque narratives, those who enjoy (estranged) family sagas will enjoy the novel.