Alligators May Be Present
by Andrew Furman
Published by University of Wisconsin Press
263 pages, 2005
A Family Matter
Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke
Abe Fishbein disappeared on his way home from work in Lackawanna, Pennsylvania "on a Wednesday." Was it foul play, or did he leave willingly? As far as his wife, Teenie, is concerned, there is no doubt -- her husband walked away of his own free will. The only possession missing the day Abe vanished was the binoculars he used for bird-watching.
Alligators May Be Present is Andrew Furman's debut novel. It relates the story of Matt Glassman, who was seven when his grandfather vanished. All his life Glassman has been haunted by the unresolved mystery and by his grandmother's reluctance to discuss it.
From the few stories Matt has heard about his grandfather and from Glassman's observation of his mother, he realizes they both suffered from depression. He apparently inherited the illness as he also experiences unexplained attacks of despair, at one time being hospitalized for several months. When his wife, Rebecca, wants to start a family, Glassman is reluctant because he fears passing the disease on to his children.
As an adult, Glassman feels a need to connect with his grandparents' generation, so he and Rebecca move to Florida to be near Teenie. Teenie seems to enjoy her grandson's company, yet she becomes annoyed by his frequent questions about his grandfather.
Glassman is surprised one day when an old man shows up at the office where he works as the book page editor of a throwaway Jewish newspaper. The old man is ostensibly seeking help with writing his memoirs but Matt sees something oddly familiar in him. Could it be Abe? When he learns that the stranger is also a bird-watcher, Glassman is convinced that his long-lost grandfather has returned.
Furman's characters are complex and well-written and, for the most part, believable. It is completely logical that a damaged woman like Teenie would simultaneously cling to and push away her grandson. Rebecca's unflagging support of her husband, however, especially when his behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, occasionally seems over the top. One wonders whether any spouse, male or female, could always be so understanding.
Furman's storytelling skills are impressive. Alligators May Be Present leaves the reader rooting for the Fishbein and Glassman families as they struggle to come to terms with abandonment and the underlying illness that continues to wreak havoc upon their lives. | July 2005
Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on STLtoday.com.