"AMONG THE GINZBURGS"
By Ellen Pall
Zoland. 245 pp. $22.95

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"Among the Ginzburgs"

By Hart Williams
Sunday, July 14, 1996

A character study of a family dealing with death and dying, taking place over a weekend in the Catskills, Among the Ginzburgs owes quite a bit to the playwright's craft. The reader is reminded of stage pieces a la "Fifth of July" or, say, the film "The Big Chill," which is, in essence, the compressed action of a play.

Radical free spirit Meyer Ginzburg has returned home, dying of leukemia. Nearly 30 years ago, he abandoned his five children, who have gathered at "what was once the family's summer house in the Catskills." The children -- Mark, Charlotte, Ira, Mimi and Sunny -- and significant others Claire, Anatole (who's a stage actor) and Jesse, compose most of the dramatis personae.

There are any number of ways that this novel might have gone wrong. After all, with the advent of AIDS, the "dying" story has become a staple of American fiction, and, in too many ways, a cliche. But Pall avoids those pitfalls. Indeed, the depth of feeling at Meyer's death, and the manner of its handling, are quite contemporary, and, to my knowledge, unique. This in itself would be enough to commend Pall's novel. But the characters are also well-etched, the conflicts are clearly delineated, and, aside from a long, obligatory sequence on "growing up in the Fifties and Sixties" with shopping lists of pop cultural icons, Pall is very good at avoiding cliches. A writer to watch.

Hart Williams is a writer in Eugene, Oregon

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