Alice Bach

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

After their second marriage and divorce (to each other) Nell's parents arrange that Nell and her younger brother Hugo will live in New York with Dad, who writes science books at home, while Mom will live in the country with her friend Greta and commute to her New York job….

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The ups and downs of living with Dad … are related to us by Nell in a meandering fashion. ["Taking Sides"] drags along, evoking in the reader a sense of having been trapped by a self-important bore, the you'll-never-guess-what-happened-to-me person who grabs your arm at a party and tries to implant meaning to an inconsequential tale with frenetic hand motions and overemphasized phrases.

The musings of lackluster Nell create a novel that is sitcom slick but prose poor….

All Nell hands over to us is information—snippy remarks about helpless Arden [her father's girlfriend], admiring words for outdoorsy loner Greta, predictable bickerings with Hugo, amazement at a woman "being so fat and being married." But the subtle shadings of feelings and wonderings that lie beneath the surface of real people are never revealed or examined.

Although she tells us she's the smartest one in her class, Nell can't differentiate in intensity between asking her grandma for a Tampax and trying to extract a vital promise from her father after his heart attack. "Do you promise to live until I'm grown up with my own family?" "I promise."

In not exploring this remarkable promise from father to daughter, Norma Klein has packaged a piece of meretricious reassurance, the lying about life, that has signaled the sloppiest of children's fiction since Nancy Drew solved every case just in the nick of time…. The pain of sickness, the tensions of separation, the fear of death are as deeply felt here as the steamroller that momentarily flattens a cartoon character. Like that feckless creature, Nell skitters away, unaffected, unhurt and seemingly incapable of any residual caring, thought, or emotion.

Since Norma Klein has chosen to act as faithful scribe to trendy teen-age dialogue and scattered teen-age thoughts, she has avoided the writer's essential task—to reflect upon and shape the material of the novel with a special perspective, a vision unique to each writer's imagination. By blunting the writer's sharpest tool, the imaginative use of language, she has denied the reader a sense of place of orientation in the world that the novel purports to create.

Alice Bach, in a review of "Taking Sides," in The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1974, p. 8.

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