Goldberg Variations: A Story of Three Cousins and a Fortune


100413_mishmash_bookThe premise of Susan Isaacs’ latest novel could not be less Jewish. A wealthy self-made grandmother invites her three adult grandchildren, with whom she has had little contact, to her grand home in Sante Fe. After insulting her handpicked heir to her business, Gloria Goldberg Garrison is conducting a test to see which of her brethren should inherit her pride and joy. She is disapproving, cold, calculating and utterly intimidating, and initially none of the grandchildren are interested in her offer. But the story winds itself slowly around, emerging insights into relationships, work and family dynamics.

The grandchildren break through their grandmother’s hard cover and find there is a lonely person inside. Mrs. Garrison discovers that it is easier to love than hate, and while she mourns the long-ago loss of a favorite son, she comes to understand how much she has hurt her remaining son by her aloofness and indifference.

Reading this novel around the High Holidays was fortuitous, as Isaacs invokes the concept of teshuvah (repentance) and the asking forgiveness of those we have wronged. While the grandchildren find ways to love and admire their grandmother and forgive her past harshness, the
real story is how Mrs. Garrison changes in her perceptions of herself and others.

While the novel’s message is admirable, it is handled in a heavy-handed manner and is ultimately very predictable. I found the book tedious and not terribly engaging, as the author careened from character to character.

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