Set in Canarsie, a Jewish community of Brooklyn, An Almost Perfect Moment (2005) is the story of Valentine Kessler and her mother, Miriam. Author Binnie Kirshenbaum brings to life a place she admits to having visited only once and a set of characters based on people who only drift in and out of her life briefly. Nevertheless, she captures the time and the place—1970s Brooklyn—perfectly.
Miriam's close friends, referred to as "The Girls," gather regularly to catch up on the latest gossip as they play mah-jongg. Since Miriam's husband left her and Valentine years ago, The Girls, described as "a cross between a Greek Chorus and Brooklyn's rendition of the Three Wise Men," are all she has left.
Valentine, in spite of her Jewish heritage, is described as "the spitting image of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes." She hears Ave Maria on an endless loop in her head and has been reading The Lives of Saints. After Valentine stops into the local pizza place, Enzio's Pizzeria, for a slice and a soda, the owner transforms it into a makeshift shrine, convinced that the Virgin Mary was there.
Valentine's jaw-dropping beauty has caught the attention of John Wosileski, her math teacher, who is adored from afar by Joanne Clarke, Valentine's history teacher. Joanne, determined to marry John, begins to resent Valentine and eventually self-destructs. Valentine's best friend, a former figure skating champion, struggles to understand her and finally gives up on their friendship.
An Almost Perfect Moment explores faith, friendship, and family against the backdrop of the dawning age of disco. In spite of overwhelming peer pressure to be beautiful, funny, and popular, Valentine blazes her own path at Canarsie High School and becomes interested in religion, much to her mother's chagrin; however, the faith Valentine is so interested in is not her own. Valentine emerges as a nonconformist in every sense of the word, refusing to be what others expect her to be.
Binnie Kirshenbaum, a professor at New York's Columbia University, has written six novels and two collections of short stories. Kirshenbaum's other novels include The Scenic Route, A Disturbance in One Place, and Hester Among the Ruins.