Cover image for Three daughters
Title:
Three daughters
Author:
Pogrebin, Letty Cottin.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Physical Description:
388 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780374276607
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

An ebullient novel about family secrets and the triumph of sisterly love Driven by a legacy of lies, the shame of their own imperfections, and impending chaos in each of their well-ordered married lives, the three Wasserman daughters struggle with themselves and one another to break their parents' silence and understand their past. Shoshanna, control freak and world-class problem solver, stands on the brink of a Big Birthday in the shadow of the Evil Eye, trying to enjoy her happiness and to overcome her fears while also engineering a double reconciliation between her estranged sisters, and between Leah and their rabbi father. Leah, a brilliant English professor and unreconstructed leader of the left, eloquent and foul-mouthed, a crusading feminist and a passionately conflicted wife and mother, grapples with the meaning of abandonment and the unfamiliar demands of her own roiling needs. Rachel, who has papered over her losses with an athlete's discipline, a fact fetishist's sense of order, and a pragmatism bordering on self-sacrifice, watches her carefully constructed world fall apart and in the rubble discovers the woman she was meant to be. Three Daughters is a rich and complex story of three lives, their loves, and the web of relationships that either hold these lives together or hopelessly entangle them.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Pogrebin, one of the founders of Ms. magazine and the author of numerous works of nonfiction, offers a dazzling debut novel. The three middle-aged Wasserman sisters share a dysfunctional background but no longer have very much in common. After their father, an esteemed rabbi who has relocated to Israel, announces he will return to New York for the millennium and wishes to celebrate with his three daughters, it is up to Shoshanna, the professional problem solver, to orchestrate a reunion of the estranged family members. Ironically, just as she resolves to achieve this minor miracle, the superorganized Shoshanna loses her precious Filofax and with it control of her well-regulated life. As she struggles with both major and mundane problems, her two older sisters must reconcile with the demons of their pasts in order to face each other and their long-absent father. Pogrebin does a superb job of interweaving several complex personal histories into a humorous and heartbreakingly honest family melodrama. --Margaret Flanagan


Publisher's Weekly Review

Augmenting a prolific career as memoirist, commentator and editor (she was a founding editor of Ms.), Pogrebin has crafted a first novel that embraces her favorite themes. (Her most recent nonfiction titles Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America and Getting Over Getting Older could serve as subtitles for this book.) The eponymous daughters are the progeny of Rabbi Sam Wasserman, whose impending return from Israel to the States for his 90th birthday proves a defining event for his family. Leah, the oldest, born of Sam's first marriage to crazy Dena, knows it's now or never to reconcile with her father. Brilliant and brooding, a dark star of second-wave feminism, Leah touchingly metamorphoses into a different brand of strong woman, able to appreciate and lean on her less doctrinal sisters. Rachel, the second in line, is Sam's stepchild, the daughter of Sam's second wife, Esther, who was his great love. Adopted and adored by Sam, Rachel has inherited his ardor for the Torah. As the novel progresses, she is transformed from a needlepoint-working, factoid-spouting rich man's wife into a flinty divorcee heading for the seminary. As for Shoshanna, the youngest, born to Sam and Esther, "[her] challenge was simply to accept that the woman she was was the woman she would likely remain intrepid, cautious, decent, and fundamentally content with her lot." Talky, smart, hopeful and empathic, this will be a must-read for Pogrebin's contemporaries. Agent, Phyllis Wender. (Oct. 17) Forecast: Pogrebin already has a well-established public persona and can count on a built-in audience for her first novel. Her recent tenure as president and spokesperson for the Authors Guild and a 22-city author tour should garner her additional recognition. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Of course these three daughters are estranged, but crusading optimist Shoshanna intends to smooth things over with brilliant, angry Leah and withdrawn Rachel. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Three Daughters one THE DRIVER OF THE DODGE CARAVAN gave Shoshanna the finger, gesticulating furiously through his windshield like the villain in a silent movie. You couldn't blame the guy. She was a horrific sight--a wild-eyed middle-aged virago in a mud-splattered coat racing across the Henry Hudson Parkway to snatch a piece of paper from the pavement. She rammed the paper into her pocket and ran back to the shoulder of the road, unflustered by her close call, then dropped to her haunches and studied the oncoming traffic. That was the nerve-racking part, waiting for the right conditions, the perfect moment to lunge. A station wagon roared past, revving up the wind. In its wake, a momentary lull, an open space, plenty of time to sprint out, snatch up another scrap, and fly back to her redoubt at the edge of the highway before the next car rounding the bend in the distance could reach her. She'd timed it perfectly, her road dance. Wait. Run. Retreat. Wait. Run. Retreat. Shoshanna might have passed for a litter-phobic environmentalist but for her periodically emptying her overstuffed pockets onto the back seat of her Volvo and smoothing each bedraggled sheet with the tenderness of a poet saving love letters from the flames. The salvage from the highway was, however, unromantic--the tattered remains of her Filofax, which, despite manifestly hazardous working conditions, she'd succeeded over the course of the afternoon in repossessing piece by piece. More surprising to her than the virtuosity of her performance was the fact that it was necessary at all. That she herself had triggered this paper chase, this anarchy in the afternoon, made no sense. Such things happened to other people, not to the archenemy of disorder, the ultra-organized Shoshanna Wasserman Safer, for whom chaos was anathema and mindfulness next to godliness. Losing track of something as important as her Filofax was consistent with neither her sense of self nor the profession she practiced with a rare blend of doggedness and delight. Shoshanna made a living straightening out other people's messes. She systematized, organized, solved problems, averted crises. Keeping Things Under Control was both her obsession and her job. She tamed the wildness, knowing better than most how quickly chaos can overtake one's life when given the slightest opportunity. Thirty years ago, on a California beach, she'd seen a joyful day turn tragic simply because she and her best friend had not been paying attention. The Evil Eye--that stalker for whom human contentment is an affront and bliss an incitement to riot--had leapt into the breach and the worst had happened. Ever since, she'd been keeping an eye on the Eye, studying its wily ways, noting how effortlessly it could transform a carefree walk in the woods into a deadly struggle against nature, a marshmallow roast into a conflagration, or a healthy pregnancy into a nightmare of loss. She knew its habits: laughter was its lure, pleasure its call to action, good fortune its invitation to havoc. The Eye could sneak up from behind and give a person a hard shove into chaos as easily as a car might stray across the white line on this highway. Because she understood this, Shoshanna had become a stalker of the stalker, guarding against the fall of its shadow across her path, tuned to its footsteps in the dark. This compulsion, she'd learned to her dismay, she shared with Charles Lindbergh. The renowned aviator, WASP avatar and Nazi sympathizer, was hardly the soul mate she'd have chosen had she not read in his daughter's memoir that he was "ever on the alert for dangers, though the dangers were unspecified. 'It's the unforseen ...' he would warn us. 'It's always the unforeseen.'" Shoshanna Safer had become a watchdog of the unforeseen, an expert on preventable chaos, and because nothing dire had happened in her orbit since that desolating day on the California beach, she'd come to believe that the only force capable of defeating her was divine whimsy--a flash flood, a letter bomb, the freak accident like the one that sent a construction crane plummeting forty stories to land on her neighbor's leg. Random strikes were beyond her capacity to predict or prevent. But today's accident couldn't be blamed on God's caprice or the stalker. This was a mess of her own making. Wait. Run. Retreat. Whirling on and off the highway, scavenging pages, she struggled to reconstruct how she'd lost track of the datebook in the first place. Remembered having it at the breakfast table that morning when she'd flipped through it in search of a free weekend. (She and Daniel had been trying to get away together since New Year's.) And when she went downstairs to her office, coffee cup in one hand, datebook in the other, always a two-fisted journey. (Running a business from the garden floor of their brownstone had greatly increased her productivity once she'd figured out how to keep work and family separate, with the help of the Filofax.) Had it when she'd called her cousin Warren to congratulate him on his promotion (thanks to the reminder her secretary, Fiona, London's gift to a Jewish compulsive, had written in the 10 a.m. slot). And when she'd grabbed a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich at her desk and a dollop of strawberry jam dripped on today's page--Wednesday, February 17, 1999. Ash Wednesday. The day she lost control. The day order turned to ashes. Could have left the book behind on her desk, its sticky spot drying in the sun; but no, she remembered it lying on the passenger seat exactly where it belonged, open to the route directions Fiona had clipped to the calendar page to facilitate the drive to Riverdale. The new client had been waiting on his porch when Shoshanna swung into his driveway. Blue jeans, cashmere V-neck the color of moss, moccasins with no socks, though it was about 30 degrees out. His jeans, she'd noted, were pressed. An ashy smudge marked the center of his forehead. Perversely, it reminded Shoshanna of the Star of David her sister Rachel wore on a chain around her neck as proudly as if it were the Croix de Guerre. Rachel's trademarks were the Jewish star and the double strand of pearls she wore virtually every day of her life, though the pearls came off now and then--say at the beach or on the treadmill--while the Magen David never left her chest. Shoshanna, discomfited by public displays of religion, had a mezuzah tacked to her doorpost, but that was it. Why stir up the anti-Semites? The smudge on the client's face seemed to shout "Catholic! Catholic!" and she'd wondered if her naked forehead was shouting back "Jew! Jew!" In his wood-paneled study, Venetian blinds sliced the winter sun into gauzy slats. Dust motes floated lazily on bars of afternoon light. Fresh-squeezed orange juice glowed in crystal goblets. A woman notices when a man does something like that. Then again, after years of monitoring the stalker, Shoshanna noticed everything. She'd registered how neat he was, how orderly, and his study even more so. Tidy stacks of magazines squared off on the coffee table like troops on review. Diverse interests-- Time in one pile, Men's Health in another, The New York Review of Books, Travel & Leisure, Foreign Affairs. A pyramid of green apples rose from a wooden bowl. Beside an upholstered wing chair stood a small table bearing a phone and a notepad with the words Milk, Eggs, Brillo, Post Office written in a fine hand. Clearly, he wasn't one of those newly divorced men who need help stocking their pantries, a task she'd been called upon to perform more than once. So what did he want her to do? Test-drive his Viagra? "Retired this year. Widowed. Wanna join a gym," he'd announced in a flat staccato, and handed her a sheet headed Health Clubs . "Check these out, would you? And be exacting." He wanted her to evaluate six local gyms--compare their facilities (state-of-the-art equipment? climbing wall? pool?) and their classes (varied? crowded? good hours?); interview personal trainers (low-key? hyper? motivating body types?); survey the locker rooms (clean carpets? thick towels? wide lockers?); and sample the fruit smoothies. "Details under each category, please," he'd added, pointing to his ruled columns. "I'll review your findings and join the best one. Clear?" "Yes, sir!" She'd felt an impulse to salute. He'd risen from his chair, a client after her own heart, a man who knew when to end a meeting. (If hell existed, Shoshanna was sure it would turn out to be a meeting.) Still in the moss sweater, no coat, he had accompanied her out to the Volvo, and as they'd stood there on the passenger side, she'd extended her hand and said, "Looking forward to working with you." Stock line, only this time she'd meant it. Being spectacularly sedentary, she might even shape up on his dime. "So, when do you need this?" "How's six weeks hence?" Hence? Who'd he think he was--Alistair Cooke? She'd flipped the pages of the Filofax to March 31 and, bracing the book against her fender, had written Health club report due (in perfect penmanship, in case he was watching). She was about to open the passenger door and toss the Filofax on the front seat as usual, the way she always did, when he'd tugged at her arm like an excited kid. "Hey! Before you go, come see the view." Shoshanna had interrupted herself mid-gesture and--because she always indulged her clients--set the book on the car roof, and followed the man around to the back of his house, where a wide lawn, pockmarked with old snow, sloped to the banks of the Hudson River. Dried poufs of hydrangea blossoms clung to bare branches. Tall pines swayed with the breeze. It was hard to believe they were only minutes from Times Square; the Edenic hush, the water gleaming like molten glass in the glow of the late-afternoon sun. Even the dour outlines of New Jersey seemed incandescent. "Nice, huh?" he'd asked, his pale eyes watering. He'd wiped his face with his sleeve. The mossy sweater came away streaked with ash. The mark on his forehead had faded to a ghost image in shadowy taupe; he was a neat man with a dirty face. He was thinking of his wife, he said, the sunsets he now had to watch without her. Something throbbed in Shoshanna's throat. A presentiment that her beloved Daniel would die someday, most likely before she did, and she would be alone. "Amazing! And to think we're in the Bronx!" she'd said quickly, blotting out the thought. "Riverdale, " he'd corrected. As they ambled back to her car, the man began reminiscing about his wife, how she brought out hot cider in a thermos for their winter sunsets, how the light played on her face, how she died eighteen months after they learned she had a brain tumor. Shoshanna, fearing the chaos of her own empathy, finessed a gentle farewell, hastily jumped behind the wheel, and took off, never noticing the Filofax on the roof on the passenger side. After all these years, the stalker had found its opening and pounced.     Squatting now at the edge of the highway waiting for her next dash, she could imagine what must have happened. The datebook, heavy in its leather binder, had stayed put as the car snaked through Riverdale's quiet, tree-lined streets. But once she'd pulled onto the highway and picked up speed, the wind had whipped open its cover and sheared through its pages, carrying away her telephone directory in the downdrafts of winter, ripping her calendar from its rings, sheet by sheet, the way old movies show the passage of time, yanking attachments from their staples and paper clips. In minutes, the tidiness of a lifetime was torn from its moorings and set adrift. She could visualize all that now, after the fact, but hours ago, when she'd first started driving home from Riverdale with her new work assignment and a slice of the widower's sorrow, she hadn't known anything was amiss until her cell phone rang. "Hi, Mom. Any chance you could babysit Saturday night?" Nelly always cut to the chase, a habit that doubtless contributed to her competence as a horseback-riding instructor, though it made for rather perfunctory conversation. "Love to, Nell. One sec, I'll see if we're free." She'd reached for the Filofax and had nearly run off the road when the seat beside her yielded only upholstery buttons and a flaccid safety strap. Impossible. It had to be there. It was always there. The minute she got in the car, reflexively, even before turning the key in the ignition, she would prop the datebook on the passenger seat like a companion riding shotgun. Where else could it be? "Call you back, Nell," she'd gulped into the phone and hit the Off button before her daughter could ask what was wrong. A signpost announced FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY. Surely a missing Filofax qualifies. She'd piloted the car into the rest stop and searched the floor, between the seats, the gearshift well, the rear seat, even the glove compartment, though the bulging book couldn't have fit in on a bet. She'd rummaged in her satchel for the organizer's familiar contours, then, ever more frantically, combed each crevice of the car a second time. Coming up empty, she'd burst into tears. Ten miles from home, yet she'd felt cosmically dislocated, as if she'd lost her footing on the planet. Her gravitational pull, her grounding, the finely meshed gears of her life, depended on her Filofax. The fat black book was the curator of her commitments, the repository of every appointment, address, phone, and fax number, plus an uncountable number of items she'd clipped, wedged, shoved, stapled, tucked, or pressed between its scuffed leather covers--not just credit cards and business cards but restaurant reviews, expense slips, snapshots, theater tickets, fabric swatches, poems, aphorisms, and a zillion memory joggers. Shoshanna's muchadmired capacity to remember not only her friends' birthdays and anniversaries but their food allergies, wine preferences, favorite flowers, kids' names, the gifts she'd given them in the past, and the food they'd eaten at her dinner table (so she wouldn't duplicate a menu) had been made possible by the record-keeping systems in her Filofax. She'd never bothered to memorize her schedule; that's what the calendar section was for. It told her what she had to do, where she had to go, what she had to look forward to, or dread. Without it, she couldn't function. Without it, her nexts would be nevers. Clients would be waiting for projects she'd forgotten were due. There would be empty seats in concert halls, angry hosts at dinner parties. She would disappoint, offend, irritate. Great chunks of her life would vanish; her time would be ungovernable, her world would turn upside down. Without it, she wouldn't show up in her own future. Energized by a billowing panic, she'd gunned the Volvo out of the rest stop and retraced her route to where she'd first entered the highway and there had found the stuff of her life blanketing the southbound lanes like the after-trash of a ticker-tape parade. Everything was everywhere: calendar pages and address sheets tattooed by tire marks, flapping against the concrete divider, lodged in the slush, impaled on bare branches, snared by the chain-link fence. A wedding invitation plastered to a speed-limit sign like a Lost Dog notice. A memo wrapped around a lamppost. Receipts fluttering in the brush. The asphalt looked like a hundred bulletin boards run over by a Mack truck. At first, she'd just stared, her mouth dry as wool, until she'd reminded herself that this was a problem and she was a problem-solver, and if she could clean up other people's messes, she ought to be able to clean up her own. She would "accentuate the positive," as the old song had it, "and eliminate the negative." And there were plenty of positives--things to be grateful for--another hour of daylight, no rain, no snow, warm clothes, sturdy rubber-soled shoes, no appointments for the rest of the afternoon. Her plan took shape. She would begin with the easy stuff, the detritus caught in the shrubs and trees. Walking along the shoulder of the road, she picked up everything she could reach, loaded her pockets, then ran to the Volvo and dumped her gleanings on the back seat. No sweat so far, except that this simple harvest took longer than she'd anticipated and the sun was sinking fast. Next phase: on-site research. She'd studied the flow of vehicles, calculating how long it took most drivers to travel from the bend in the road where they first came into view to the spot where her quarry lay. Though the cars bore down like buffalo, they seemed less menacing once she'd noticed that, like cattle, they often traveled in herds, with enough space in between for her to scoot out, grab a sheet or two from the pavement, and zoom back to the shoulder before the next batch barreled toward her, horns blaring. Wait (for the spaces). Run (and seize a page or two or three). Retreat (even faster). Her first foray was as terrifying as a sky diver's maiden jump, but once she was back on the sidelines with spoils in hand, the adrenaline rush sent her down to her haunches again, ready for the next sprint. Fear gave way to pride as she perfected her routine, spurred by thoughts of what remained amid the roadkill. The twenty-five-year-old newspaper clipping announcing the engagement of Shoshanna Wasserman and Daniel Safer, her version of a rabbit's foot. The Bloomingdale's gift certificate her sister Rachel had given her for Hanukkah that she'd had no time to spend. A "Buy Ten, Get One Free" card from Starbucks with eight holes punched out. Her father's letter. When it arrived a week ago, she'd stuck the aerogram in the inside flap of the Filofax and left it there moldering, for the news that Sam Wasserman would be coming to New York was not without its complications. Since he'd made aliyah in 1987, he'd been back only once, in '90, when Shoshanna and Rachel talked him into flying home to celebrate his eightieth birthday. "Home is Jerusalem," he'd objected, but he came nonetheless and thoroughly enjoyed the fuss made over him by his family, who, after three years, had forgotten his sullen side--the frequently harsh critic, the brooding silences--and remembered only the sweet Sam. "Dear Shoshie," he'd written in his shaky hand, Given your oft-stated and presumably still-fond memories of my visit to New York nine years ago, you'll be pleased to learn that another important occasion seems to justify my journeying to the States. I've been asked to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from Rodeph Tzedek. High time, too. I was beginning to wonder if my 30 years with the shul added up to a hill of beans. But now that they've seen fit to remember their old rabbi and give me this honor, I'm sure as hell going to take it. Though I'm writing this letter in February and won't be arriving until next December, I wanted to give you fair notice, because I'm told the last weekend of this year is going to be a big megillah due to the millennium. Since people seem to be making plans very far in advance, I'm asking you now to save the date: Friday night, December 31. I'm hoping everyone--and I mean everyone, including the great-grandkids--will come and share my BIG NIGHT. Until then, Shalom and love. Your Dad. Shoshanna knew he didn't really mean everyone . Nothing was that simple in the Wasserman family, starting with the fact that Sam had three daughters--Rachel, Leah, and Shoshanna--one of whom hadn't spoken to him for nearly thirty-five years, and the other two, to their enduring frustration, had no idea why. Whatever its cause, the cataclysm that blew Sam and Leah apart had left behind nothing but a tense, truculent silence, and the clear message that Shoshanna and Rachel were not to broach the subject with either party. But lately, maybe because she was facing her fiftieth birthday and suffering new intimations of mortality, Shoshanna had become determined to help her father and sister heal their breach before it was too late. For their sakes, of course, but also to assuage her own guilt, the years having convinced her that she must have contributed something to their estrangement, perhaps just by being born. ("As a pawn can change a chess game, a baby can change a life." The aphorism was clipped to one of the Filofax pages that hadn't turned up yet on the highway.) Since the family's Leah Problem was said to date back to the year after Shoshanna's birth, she could only assume that she had been at least a partial cause of her sister's discontent, just as her sister was, in some unspoken sense, the source of the unrest Shoshanna felt within herself. Even when everything in her life was humming along, Shoshanna's personal Leah Problem disrupted the harmony she craved. Motivated by that vague disquiet, the fixer of brokenness hoped to mastermind a cease-fire between her father and his exiled daughter--and, by reconciling them, to bring about her own relief. At eighty-nine, Sam had to know this trip could be his last. But, like his adopted country, he wasn't the type to make a unilateral peace move. If he and Leah were ever going to reconcile, someone--namely Shoshanna--would have to broker their reunion, find a way to engineer it without raising the hackles of a proud old man or setting off the choleric Leah, or, for that matter, infuriating their third sister, Rachel, who had received the identical letter from their father (Xeroxed) and saw no reason, as she put it, "to stir up stagnant waters." Unsentimental, pragmatic, at peace with the status quo, Rachel dismissed the notion of a pre-millennial reconciliation as hopeless. "Give it up," she'd told Shoshanna. "They're both old mules. They'll never change." But Shoshanna was sure Sam's upcoming visit could lead to a rapprochement if only she could figure out how to get the process rolling. Maybe emotional blackmail--she'd tell her father the present she wanted most for her fiftieth birthday was a truce between him and Leah; beg him to make the first move. Maybe give him an ultimatum: "Invite Leah to your award night, or I won't come." ("Don't do me any favors," he'd say. "Stay home." Then what would she do?) Or maybe approach it the other way--tell Leah about the letter and ask her to take the initiative, or at least be open-minded if Sam reaches out. Guilttrip her with the birthday present request. Or maybe leave both of them out of it and cook up something that would bring them together once Sam arrived in New York. In other words, trick them into wanting to make up. Ruminating on her options, Shoshanna had stirred up stagnant waters of her own and, thoroughly confused, had shoved Sam's letter in the Filofax along with everything else that mattered. And now it was gone, swallowed by the wind. Wait (the wind was growing colder by the minute). Run (scoop up Blockbuster video card, one theater ticket--where was the other?--two bedraggled "D" pages from her phone directory). Retreat . Shoshanna hiked up her coat collar, trudged to the Volvo, and emptied her pockets for what must have been the hundredth time, then returned to her crouch. Her thighs ached. Her fingers had frozen into claws. Her frenzied hair--an auburn thatch her father had once dubbed "the burning bush"--looked more like a copper pot-scrubber flecked with twigs and litter. Her knees pushed through her trouser legs, raw potatoes grating against the stony roadside patch where she was kneeling now, as if in prayer, waiting for the next lull, the next mad dash that would restore order to her universe, one page at a time. Night falls fast in February. Illuminated now by the oncoming headlamps, Shoshanna darted smoothly in and out of traffic, on and off the road, running, bending, grabbing, reaping, goaded in her labors by the sight of the sodden papers rising to new heights on the back seat. Why, one might ask, would a rational woman risk her life for a lousy datebook? Not risking--saving it, she'd have answered. Which is not to say she didn't recognize the lunacy of her road dance, as well as her dependence on her calendar and her overreaction to its loss. What, after all, was a datebook in the scheme of things? Nothing. Less than nothing compared to the tragedies in the daily papers that she'd made it her business to memorize. TEENAGERS TRAMPLED AT ROCK CONCERT. SIX DEAD MOVIE STAR PARALYZED IN HORSE ACCIDENT TOURISTS KILLED IN COPTER CRASH BOATING TRAGEDY CLAIMS FAMILY OF 4 It wasn't voyeurism that drew her to morbid news stories, but rather the hope of extracting from each a cautionary message, a clue, a survival technique, or an emergency plan that might someday come in handy to safeguard those she loved. To that end, she deconstructed every cave-in and crack-up, every washout and shipwreck, on the chance that what might appear random or accidental was actually attributable to human error and thus preventable. Once, having watched the aftermath of an earthquake on TV, she'd devised an evacuation plan from the brownstone and foolishly shared it with her sister Leah during one of their annual lunches. Greatly amused, the incorrigibly alliterative Leah had accused Shoshanna of being "a maven of misery, a connoisseur of catastrophe, a diva of disaster." "I'm just preemptively prudent," Shoshanna had said, playing along, though she'd regretted giving her sister more ammunition for her mockery. "What nareshkeit, Shoshie. For Chrissake, you live in Greenwich Village. The San Andreas fault doesn't run down fucking Bleecker Street. Besides, you ought to know it's futile to strategize about chaos." On the contrary; for the last thirty years Shoshanna had been doing just that. Outsmarting the stalker. Outstaring the Eye. Perfecting her strategies. At the movies, she checked the location of the emergency exits. (Other people did the same, but how many also made sure that the exit doors were unlocked and the fire escapes unobstructed?) At the theater, she was a human smoke alarm, monitoring the burning candle at stage left or the cigarette an actor meant to stub out but missed. When Nelly and Jake lived at home, she wouldn't let them attend bigticket soccer matches or rock concerts where the crowds might riot and crush them. She made her children carry hypothermia blankets when hiking, even if it was 90 degrees out (this precaution gleaned from the headlined calamity: FOUR DIE STRANDED ON MOUNTAIN IN FREAK SUMMER BLIZZARD). At home, she kept bike helmets, life jackets, freeze-dried meals, ipecac to induce vomiting, salves for burns, Benadryl for allergic reactions, and antidotes for poisons, bee stings, and convulsions. Other parents also stocked first-aid supplies, but how many bothered to take their fire extinguishers to the fire house to have them tested? Better safe than scorched, she'd say, having picked up the alliteration tic from Leah. Shoshanna wished her children were as judicious. But in that curious way that offspring often become dialectics of their parents, Jake was into helicopter skiing and white-water rafting (she often suspected he'd chosen the University of Colorado for its proximity to extreme terrain) and Nelly, passionate about horses from the time she was a tot, had always been hell-bent on galloping where the rest of the world feared to trot, and often did it bareback. Though Shoshanna allowed that this outcome was preferable to their having gone the other way and become more fearful than their mother, living with daredevil children was not easy for her. As soon as Nelly was old enough to travel alone, she had insisted on taking the Saturday-morning train up to Westchester, where she'd apprenticed herself to a horse trainer who gave her broad responsibilities in the stables and unlimited riding privileges. Claremont, Manhattan's only riding academy, hired her as an instructor right out of college, and at the end of every workday, Nelly saddled one of the horses and gave it free rein in Central Park, churning up the bridle paths as if she were tearing across the plains of the Wild West. One evening, her horse whinnied, reared, and skidded to a halt inches from a jogger in blue satin shorts who'd materialized in the middle of the dirt track. The young man was hunched over, writhing in pain. "Achilles tendon," he moaned. "Hop aboard," said Nelly. She hoisted him up behind her and, like a cavalry officer bringing in the wounded, rode him to Roosevelt Hospital's emergency room entrance. "You're not going to disappear into the sunset before I can thank you?" he called as a white-suited orderly rolled him away. "Ditch the horse, and the minute I'm out of here, I'll buy you dinner." That was how Nelly met Ezra. Six months later, they were married, and a year after that, Pearl and Ruby were born. Despite having survived a kick-in-the-head accident as a child, Nelly put the twins on ponies well before they were three, and they loved it to the point where Shoshanna feared the Evil Eye might take notice. The other day, while she and Nelly sat on a bench in Adventure Playground watching Ruby climb the miniature pyramids, Shoshanna exercised a grandmother's prerogative. "Isn't that kind of high for her?" "She's fine, Ma," replied Nelly as Pearl scampered up the wooden structure to join her sister. "It scares me the way you let the girls take chances." "They wouldn't be up there if they couldn't handle it. You've got to stop worrying so much." "There's a lot to worry about with little children. I just read this terrible story--you keep an eye on the twins; I'll read it to you." Shoshanna extracted a newspaper clipping from her purse. "'A toddler sightseeing with her parents fell to her death from the Golden Gate Bridge despite her father's desperate rescue attempt. Witnesses said the father tried to grab the two-year-old as she slipped through a gap between the walkway and traffic lanes.'" "How awful!" said Nelly. "You can learn something from that." "Like what?" "Like, bridges aren't safe for kids. Like, when you're in an unfamiliar situation, you might want to keep the girls on a leash." Nelly groaned and rolled her eyes. "Better leashed than lost," said Shoshanna. "You're nuts, Ma!" Nelly hugged her and changed the subject, but Shoshanna couldn't shake the image of her precious granddaughters slipping through the cracks. The world according to Shoshanna was divided into two kinds of people--those like her daughter Nelly who took their well-being for granted and those like Shoshanna who knew something horrible could happen because it already had. Her job was to stay alert on behalf of both breeds. Contented now--sometimes even flagrantly so--she knew she was a tempting target for the stalker. Yet she also knew that paying the Eye too much mind could sour her joy and make her an overcautious pain in the ass, as she'd often been to her children. Most of the time, though, she managed to strike a balance between pleasure and vigilance, keeping her worries to herself and enjoying life to the fullest without letting the stalker get the better of her. Not for nothing did a plaque on her desk say DYBBUK STOPS HERE. Now, scuttering across the highway, Shoshanna vowed never again to be distracted by a Hudson River sunset. Her friends would be as surprised to eavesdrop on her thoughts as to catch sight of her in the middle of the southbound lanes. "That couldn't be our Shoshanna!" they'd exclaim. "She's the most put-together person we know." They'd point to her famously neat files, her shipshape household, the clockworks of her busy life. They'd describe her as a detail person, someone who checks the gas jets on the stove before going to bed and never locks herself out of the house, who makes lists and keeps a pair of reading glasses in every purse. Someone who, were she a man, would be wearing a belt and suspenders. As proof of the pudding, her friends would say, just look at her business. The brochure said it all: Overworked? Harried? Stressed-out? Let us simplify your life! Give us your To Do list, we'll give you back the one asset that is irreplaceable: Time. My Time Is Your Time makes your time your own. The company's founding director sounded like a cross between the concierge at the Plaza and the Flying Nun: Licensed as a paralegal, EMS practitioner, real estate broker, and Notary Public, Shoshanna Wasserman Safer also holds a B.A. in Political Science and a Master's in Organizational Dynamics. A professional problem-solver catering to the needs of the overburdened, she has, among other things: • written speeches for a steel company president • organized a clown convention • helped an infertile couple locate a surrogate mother • served as an anonymous bidder at art auctions • run book tours for authors • located natural-looking prostheses for a breast cancer survivor • researched dunking stools for a documentary on witchcraft • collected fabric and tile samples for a top designer • handled logistics for weddings and funerals • transported a valuable pet parrot to Philadelphia Her newest client, the neatnik in Riverdale, had been referred by a woman who'd hired My Time Is Your Time to organize a photo safari for her husband's fortieth birthday, and that client in turn had been referred by a man who'd used Shoshanna to screen responses to his personals ad. "I want the fun of a new relationship," he'd explained, "not the work." He'd left it to Shoshanna to interview applicants and set him up on dates, a task she'd found nearly impossible to fulfill without warning every prospect that the guy was a turd. (She'd charged double for the effort.) Compared to such smarmy assignments, she preferred the grunt-and-grind stuff--making travel arrangements, waiting for deliveries, dog-walking, house-sitting, packing for a move, keeping people's tax records, balancing checkbooks, filing insurance claims, updating frequent-flier accounts, cleaning out closets, organizing clutter, waiting in line at government offices. The jobs most of us avoid or procrastinate about Shoshanna undertook with relish, savoring the rewards of instant gratification, client gratitude, and the sense that she was contributing to a more orderly universe. Finally, her friends might say, to understand how in control this woman is, get your hands on her Filofax. Which is exactly what Shoshanna had been trying to do for the last several hours while a question stuck in her head like a nail: How could this happen to me ? There had to be a reason. Nothing happens without a reason.     Bingo! She'd almost missed the blue onionskin aerogram under the 246th Street overpass--Sam's letter, damp, limp, stained, but readable. With this she lumbered back to the Volvo, sank behind the wheel, and encountered her face in the rearview mirror. Future shock! She'd be fifty in June. Bad time to cop a glimpse of where her looks were headed. Not a pretty sight--green eyes suspended in a net of red mesh, lips cracked and caked, cheeks like dried apricots. Her skin showed in its furrows the disappointment she felt in herself. If not for Daniel bucking her up whenever she found a gray hair or a wrinkle, the depredations of age might have been too much to bear. But as soon as she began to grouse about this or that, he'd always say something reassuring (the other day, he called her "a man's idea of an interesting woman," quoting Henry James), or he'd run his fingers through her hair and rhapsodize on her "cherub head," her "sweet-potato soufflé," her "fountain of russet ringlets." Someday he would stop raving about her looks, and then what? She gunned the car into the southbound traffic. The dashboard clock glowed 8:10. By now, Daniel would be frantic. In their twenty-five years together, certain acts had become ritualized, among them the "What-are-we-doing-tonight?" phone call. No matter how many times they might have touched base during the day, this rite of reconnection was sacrosanct. The call usually came around five o'clock, rarely later than six, sometimes from his end, sometimes hers, nothing formalized, except that it happened, this checkpoint of intimacy, every day of their lives. Now it was after eight and they hadn't talked since breakfast. She knew he'd be relieved to hear her voice; then, having established she was safe, he'd be colossally pissed. She felt for the cell phone and punched their home number. "For God's sake, Shoshe, where are you!!" he shouted above the static. "Are you all right?!" "I'm fine, love." She tried to sound fine while digging pebbles out of her bloodied knees. "My Filofax blew all over the road. I've been recapturing it." "Filofax? What road?!" . "I'll explain later, it's a bad connection." "Shoshanna, where are you?" "West Side Highway. Almost home, I promise." "Well, take your time," he drawled sardonically. "Maestro Mazur will wait." Dammit! She'd stapled the Philharmonic tickets to today's calendar page so they'd never get lost. What a joke! Back at the office, once she'd got her gleanings spread out on the floor, she would collect the remaining concert and theater tickets and deposit them in a desk drawer. She would organize the dirty pages into categories and figure out what was missing, and hope next Saturday's page turned up so she could phone Nelly back about babysitting the twins, and she'd look for the "W" page with Wasserman on it and call Leah about booking their annual lunch at Mamaleh's, on March 8. Just imagining these tasks on the drive down the highway drained her last gram of strength. She'd also have to answer her father's letter. For now, she would limit herself to the innocuous: congratulate him on the synagogue honor, and tell him how excited everyone was at the thought of seeing him after all this time. In the next few weeks, though, she'd have to decide what to do about Leah. Copyright (c) Letty Cottin Pogrebin, 2002 Excerpted from Three Daughters by Letty Cottin Pogrebin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.