A Stranger on the Planet
Soho, Jan 21 2011, $24.00
In 1963, the Shapiro couple divorce. Their dad begins a new family; for the most part leaving his three children to live with their dysfunctional mother. Over the next six years following the split, twelve years old Seth, his twin sister Sarah and their younger brother Seamus struggle with their mother Ruth’s horrific behavior abetted by their maternal grandfather and aunt who believe divorce as the original sin. Ruth or Aunt Rhoda setting her up seems to date a series of losers as boyfriends. In 1969 Ruth’s latest misadventure culminates with her marrying Eddie Lipper sixteen days after they met in the Catskills.
As the years go by teenage Seth is embarrassed by his mom’s outrageous behavior and her emotional needs that feel like a vampire sucking out his soul. As Seth becomes an adult, he keeps distance in his relationships until he marries Molly. However though he loves her, he remains detached from her. Tragedy brings the SSSS brood back together for the first time in years; Seth tries to tell them how he feels but has spent most of his life avoiding the emotional havoc caused when you love someone one.
This is a character driven family drama with most of the insightful story line narrated by an increasingly emotionally distant Seth. His siblings and mom are well drawn support players while his father is rightfully somewhat shadowy as expected for someone who Seth believes deserted his kids when they were very young. Although Seth’s late revelation feels contrived, readers will appreciate the child is the adult as Adam Schwartz provides a profound psychological study of a man who is a stranger in many ways with his family.