Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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As the focus here is on family novels, i.e. stories of interaction
within the family and of the family’s effect on the individual, one
cannot help but observe how action in one place brings about an
unexpected effect in another. Bernice Rubens in her novel
elected member
invokes R.D. Laing’s observation that the appar­
ently sick person may be the oblique victim of familial difficulty,
or, as it might be put, of the general pathology. This is also a Jew­
ish family novel. But here the dislocation of the disaffected mem­
ber is the most extreme of any figures in the novels so far dis­
cussed. That “member” becomes technically mad. He sees visions
of silver fish, which condition is induced by the drugs that he has
been taking over a long period of time. It is Norman Zweck, now
aged forty-one, who is mad. But his condition is incomprehensi­
ble except in the context of his family relationships, with his
father, the rabbi, and with his sister Bella. His father willingly
accepts responsibility for what has happened and would do any­
thing within his power to help relieve the symptoms. His sister is
also tied to him, although she, ambivalently, seems to aspire to
liberation from that state, “She resented the feeling of obligation
she felt for him. They had nothing in common; all they shared
were the same parents, the same miserable childhood, and the
same mutual embarrassment. She tried not to wish him dead.”
This “all that they shared” is, of course, almost everything. This is
what locks them together in a common fate. Whatever happens
later cannot release them from what has already transpired.
Ms. Rubens combines two other meanings together with the
primary, ironic, parliamentary sense of her novel’s title. One is
R.D. Laing’s as applied to individuals, who are the victims of the
family’s general pathology. The other is that applied to the Israel­
ite nation through the biblical doctrine of election. Laing argues
The politics of experience
that individuals may carry the symptoms
brought on by difficulties in the family at large. As quoted in the
motto of the Rubens novel, “I f patients are disturbed, their fami­
lies are very often disturbing.” Thus the patient becomes some­
one special, because he bodies forth a collective experience that
would otherwise remain buried. And, as for the other implication
of the novel’s title, we have an example of what is meant by elec­
tion in the address of Moses to his people
7:6) when
he says in his parting address, “For you are a holy people to the