Stolen Goods

After hibernating in the shelter of her New Jersey family, Anna Karavajian tries out life alone in the Bronx as a high-school teacher, where her independent spirit gets her into trouble. She seems to find her true calling when she begins running her father’s printing company in Manhattan. Always considered eccentric, Anna still manages to surprise everyone with her late-blooming sophisticating, sexual nonchalance, and competitive drive.

Despite her successes, however, Anna still feels incomplete, and as she turns to her sisters, friends, and finally an embittered playwright, their lives become intertwined and their destinies take shape. Dworkin tells some diverting tales of these characters, who include Anna’s former radical brother-in-law, her avant-garde theater friends, as well as the playwright, Charles. Dworkin turns attention periodically from Anna to Charles, an English professor and crippled Vietnam veteran, and to his life at a liberal arts college in Vermont as well as his trips to California and New York, where he explores the worlds of theater and film-making. Charles is perhaps a more complex character than Anna herself, who begins to appear, for all of her supposed eccentricities, as a kind of moral touchstone for many of the buffeted souls around her.

While Anna’s development into an unusually strong and independent woman and her triumph in a traditionally male-run business are important elements, they are not really the point of the novel: The situations and the characters are quirky and humorous and there is something too sweet-natured about even the unpleasant turns of events to give STOLEN GOODS a strident feminist label. More than anything else, it is a gentle examination of ethics in American business, arts, and families, executed with humor and charm.