Wednesday, October 2, 2013

By Blood by Ellen Ullman

By Blood by Ellen Ullman
By Blood is set in 1970's San Francisco, where the main character, a disgraced professor, is taking a mandatory leave of absence from his university and attempting to put his life back together. He rents an office in a seedier part of town, and soon discovers that on the other side of his paper-thin wall (and a badly fitting connecting door) is a practicing psychiatrist. She generally employs a white-noise machine during sessions, but one of her patients cannot abide the sound, and for her, the machine is turned off.

Our professor soon finds himself enthralled by her story. He sits very, very quietly in his office, not daring to move for fear that the squeak of his chair will alert his neighbors of his presence. (After all, he can hear the sound of their nylon stockings when they cross their legs.) The patient is trying to deal with issues regarding her adopted family, and decides to begin a search for her birth mother.

She soon learns that she was adopted through a Catholic agency that may have been involved in "stealing" Jewish babies from their extended families in the wake of World War II. After finding only a few shreds of information, however, she is thwarted in her search.

But if there's one thing the professor knows how to do, it's research. He soon undertakes the mysterious patient's quest, and learns quite a bit about her origins. Since he has no excuse to contact her directly, he develops a subterfuge to get the information to her, and then listens as she recounts her experiences to her therapist. Soon he becomes entirely entangled in her life.

To tell you the truth, I almost stopped reading the book after the first chapter. Ullman's style (at this point, anyway) is particularly stylized and ornate; I found myself wondering if she was trying to channel Poe. In fact, I did stop reading after the first chapter, and went and read another book. Eventually, though, I came back and finished it. It was a fairly absorbing book -- I'm glad I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment