Good on Paper, Rachel Cantor’s ingenious follow-up to 2014’s A Highly Unlikely Scenario, is set in the final months of 1999. Single mother Shira Greene is 44 and works as a temp at a company that makes prosthetic legs. She hates the job, and why wouldn’t she? Her dream is to be a writer and translator, a vocation life has forced her to put aside. Employment notwithstanding, Shira has a comfortable life. She and her 7-year-old daughter, Andi, share a Manhattan apartment with Shira’s friend Ahmad, an economics professor whom Andi thinks of as her real father.
Then Shira receives a telegram from Romei, a Nobel Prize-winning poet. Romei offers Shira the well-paying chance to translate his new work, a Dante-inspired piece dedicated to his wife. The job, however, isn’t as perfect as it seems. Romei’s work is all but untranslatable, with a storyline that bears a resemblance to one of Shira’s few published stories—a discovery that makes her question Romei’s true intent in hiring her.
Part of the fun of Good on Paper is the slow revelation of the mystery behind Romei’s request—which involves not only Shira and her mother, who abandoned her family when Shira was Andi’s age, but also Shira’s friend Benny, a bookstore owner and part-time rabbi known to rollerblade around New York in a cherry-red bodysuit. Don’t be fooled by the breeziness of the opening pages. Good on Paper is a challenging work, with translation serving as a metaphor for the search for another person’s intentions. Cantor’s witty novel is about the quest for the best path and the difficulty in finding it.