Monday, January 28, 2013

Marjorie Morningstar

This is an old novel (1955) by Herman Wouk.  I picked it up as it was recommended in The End of Your Life Book Club - as one of their all time favourite novels.  It was long which was a bit daunting but it's definitely withstood the test of time.  It tells the story of five years in the life of Marjorie Morgenstern (stage name, Morningstar) starting from when she was 17; though the last chapter tells us where she is at 15 years later.
Marjorie was the daughter of immigrant Jewish parents living in New York who are trying desperately to create a glamourous life for their daughter notwithstanding the depression.  For a short time she lives on Central Park West but her father's business cannot maintain that lifestyle when times get really tough and the family must move further into the West Side.  Her parents also want her to be educated but cannot afford an Ivy League college so she is a day student and Hunter College for women.  But she aspires for more and hangs out first with Columbia students and eventually an arsty crowd as she's sure she's destined for a career on Broadway.
Her parents are protective of her but an eccentric friends gets her a job as a drama counsellor at a summer camp where she sneaks across the lake to an adult resort and meets the man who becomes the love of her life, Noel Airman.  Noel, really Saul Ehrmann, is more than 10 years older than her, a drifter and probably bipolar, the black sheep of his high class German Jewish family.  He wants to be a songwriter, and stage a Broadway musical, and Marjorie believes in him.  But he doesn't really have as much talent as he thinks and he certainly doesn't have the drive to stick with a job though given opportunities both in the movie business and the advertising business.
The book essentially follows Marjorie and Noel's on-again, off-again romance over the next five years - as she subconsciously hopes to "tame" him and make him her husband and he fights falling into that convention, abandoning her more than once when he thinks he's close to capitulating.  In the end she follows him to Paris - and succeeds in extracting a proposal but responds in a surprising way.
There are also interesting side stories showing Marjorie's relationship with her parents, her large extended family (the Uncle, Samson-Aaron, was one of my favourite characters), her sometimes supportive, other times lying and scheming friend, Marsha Zelenko, Noel's young assistant, Wally, who moons over her for years, if not decades, and another somewhat crazy man she befriends crossing the ocean to Paris, Michael Eden, who is working undercover to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany and whose fate is never revealed).
Though there is not a lot of action, the character development make this book a fascinating, though lengthy, read.  I recommend it for those with the time and the patience.

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