Leslie Epstein Susan Lydon - Essay

Susan Lydon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Despite the countless thousands of words expended on the soul of the middle-aged Jewish male (now plumbed nearly to exhaustion), his generational counterpart, the middle-aged Jewish female, has languished in a fictional limbo…. [She's] the last invisible woman. Or was until Regina Glassman sprang full-grown from the pen of Leslie Epstein [in Regina].

Regina would be the first to admit that her obscurity isn't due just to insensitive novelists: she has passed most of her life in a somnambulistic stupor, from which she is only now beginning to awaken. And her monkey-in-the-middle-age dilemma exists in life as well as art; caught between the intense egocentrism of her incorrigible teenage sons and the blind selfishness of her mother's senility, she hardly has time to find herself. But she's determined to try….

With its many allusions to Chekhov, Regina is dense with symbolism; you can feel the weight of Epstein's literary predecessors. Regina is a flesh-and-blood character, but she's also Woman as barometer of social history—a time-honored tradition that includes Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. In less skillful hands, Regina's story, with all its probing for answers to ultimate questions, might have seemed at best pretentious, at worst ludicrous. Epstein, however, maintains a tone that is neither too earnest nor too flip. And he manages to provide a few satisfactory answers: when the healer's "miracles" are exposed as mere conjurer's tricks, another version of mystical transcendence appears to take their place. In this case it's the transcendence of the ordinary, the beauty of the commonplace, the majesty of everyday, human reality. A hamische ending to a hamische story, but with enough substance that it lingers long after the last page has been read. Regina's soul is eminently worth illumination, for our sake as well as hers.

Susan Lydon, in a review of "Regina" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1983), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, January 18, 1983, p. 37.