By Yakira Cohen
More than 60 people buckled up for a Zoom talk hosted by Chizuk Amuno Congregation with author Andy Abramowitz on June 16 about his second novel, “A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall.”
Participants rode through an introduction by Chizuk Amuno’s executive director, Lee Sherman, followed by a presentation and reading by Abramowitz, as well as a Q&A session.
Abramowitz grew up attending Chizuk Amuno, where his sister and mother still belong, according to Sherman. Most of the book takes place in Baltimore, adding what Sherman called a “local flavor” to the story.
“It was a great opportunity to add to the quality of programming with someone we know well and who knows Chizuk Amuno well,” Sherman said.
The book, which Abramowitz said focuses on the core themes of redemption and family, features Davis Winger, a roller coaster designer whose marriage crumbles after an accident strikes on one of his rides, and his sister Molly, a journalist who is struggling through her own relationships.
“We all have a notion about where we fit in in terms of our family … and I think we’re all just a little bit wrong,” said Abramowitz. “Writing this book helped me realize that we’re not quite who we think we are in our families, but that our families are the only ones who are willing to look past it or no longer have the energy to care.”
Abramowitz also spoke about extending the roller coaster metaphor beyond Davis’ job to illustrate the ups and downs of the characters’ lives, although he felt “a little hokey” about it as he tried to veer from being too cliché.
Abramowitz said he had no prior background and had to do a lot of research in order to write about roller coaster designing.
“I had to educate myself about that. But I should also say that I hope no structural engineers ever read this book, because there’s no way I came anywhere near it,” he joked.
Readers also took note of the humorous writing, even though Abramowitz claims he didn’t start out trying to be funny and believes it comes organically from the characters.
“He’s a modern, cultural observer with a wry sense of humor,” Sherman said.
Beyond having inherent humor, Abramowitz also said the characters moved the story along. Abramowitz is ultimately in charge and had an outline for the story. But, he said, “what they do in the middle is up to them;” his drafts go different directions based on character interactions he didn’t expect.
“It starts off loosely with some plot; you have to have a story,” he said. “If characters feel real enough they can take you somewhere else.”
Although they impacted the story, Abramowitz admitted he didn’t like all of his characters, something he also dealt with when writing his first book.
“They should be human,” he said. “Some of them are going to be likeable, some of them are not going to be likeable.”
At the end of the talk, Abramowitz said he recently submitted his next book, which he estimates will be published next summer. After the event was over, friends, family, and Chizuk Amuno members took themselves off mute to congratulate Abramowitz and wish him well.
This was the second Zoom book talk the synagogue has held, according to Sherman, who said the congregation is trying to host more events for members who are home for the summer.
“All of us who have been spending, if not all of our time confined home, most of our time at home, are looking for things to do,” he said. “It’s been our goal at Chizuk Amuno to provide as many of those opportunities as we can for people.”
Yakira Cohen is a journalism and psychology student at the Honors College of the University of Maryland, College Park.