STARRED REVIEW
November 07, 2017

Visions of a midlife crisis

By Ruby Namdar
Review by

The Ruined House is an examination of one man’s midlife crisis, and how we all are the sum of our inescapable, barely beneath-the-surface history.

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Andrew Cohen is part of the New York City cultural elite—a New York University professor and prominent thinker who has designed his whole life around optimum comfort and aesthetics. His urban apartment is sleek—albeit unwelcoming to his two daughters—and he enjoys a relationship with a former student nearly half his age.

Andrew’s well-curated life is flipped on end when he starts having disturbing visions that leave him shaken and physically ill. They appear to be connected to an ancient ritual taking place in a Jewish temple. A secular Jew, Andrew doesn’t know what to make of the scenes flashing through his mind.

The Ruined House, which won Israel’s biggest literary award (the Sapir Prize), is a fascinatingly claustrophobic year inside Andrew’s mind. He is not a particularly likable man, focused as he is solely on his reputation and physical appearance. Yet, as he descends into the hellish clutches of increasingly frequent visions, one can’t help feeling for him.

The story is in part a meditation on the isolation of the modern age, when one can live among millions of people in a vibrant city, yet still be utterly alone. It’s also, not coincidentally, set in the year before September 11, 2001, and a sense of doom hovers over every lyrical page: “The sky blue of the river meets the water blue of the sky, divided only by the thin filament of the George Washington Bridge, stretching from bank to bank like the hint of a knowing smile: The day would come when all would return to what it had been and the world would revert to chaos.”

But at its core, The Ruined House is an examination of one man’s midlife crisis, and how we all are the sum of our inescapable, barely beneath-the-surface history.

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The Ruined House

The Ruined House

By Ruby Namdar
Harper
ISBN 9780062467492

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