Minus One by Doris Iarovici (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020).
Moments of regret permeate the stories in Doris Iarovici’s new book, Minus One, a collection of studies in grief, resilience, and the games we play with ourselves to get beyond heartbreaks from which we cannot recover. This slim book of ten stories contains the precise writing and emotional insight present in Iarovici’s Novello award-winning collection, American Dreaming. But here, her characters face the dreaded loss of that one person—a spouse, child, or doting grandmother—who makes life and family complete. The thematic connection binds these stories together, while each tale intimately conveys a character coming to terms with, and surviving, deep loss.
The lead story, “One Way It Could Happen,” portrays the irony of a psychiatrist who helps patients cope with their desperation, but cannot rescue her own stepson from his addiction. The second person narrator ingeniously captures the inner voice with which so many of us speak to ourselves, punishing ourselves for decisions that we’ve made which were, perhaps, the only possible decisions at the time: “You suspected he was doing opiates, but you thought it was still pills. To come to Christmas dinner at your house, you insisted he had to commit to treatment. He never came.”
Iarovici is a master at succinctly revealing entire emotional landscapes; she captures poignant aspects of familial relations with a few dashes of ink. In “The Reverse Peregrination of Daniela Lupu,” she conveys the difficult relationship between a mother and son who contend not only with a generational divide, but also with the complications of immigration and the strictures of old country custom.
The story is told from the point of view of Adina, the adult American granddaughter, who looks after her adored immigrant grandmother, Daniela, living in New York City. Her estranged father, Mihai, has moved back to his native Romania after a failed marriage and career, leaving Daniela and his mother in the United States. Life goes on; then Daniela gets sick. Mihai travels to New York to fetch his ailing mother and whisk her back to the old country. The last time Adina sees Daniela, she says to her father, “I wish you weren’t taking her,” but there are ancient forces at work that Adina can’t understand, that even mother and son can’t fathom, that are primal and also buttressed by tradition. “‘What can we do, honey? It’s life,’ Daniela says. Mihai exhales: a soft hiss. Both avoid Adina’s eyes. Both wear the same mask of resignation and—what? Despair?” These lines illustrate the complexity of love and the ties that bind, of the prisons that we construct for ourselves and enter willingly, knowing our actions are bound for disaster.