Start Without Me

As one might expect from a novel set at a family Thanksgiving, Joshua Feldman's Start Without Me captures holiday drama. Thirty-five-year-old Adam Warshaw returns to his parents' Massachusetts home after several years of self-imposed exile. A former keyboardist for his San Francisco band, he is in his ninth month of sobriety, working as an accounts manager for a bank and dreading the houseful of family. He is greeted there by his young nephews and nieces' drawings taped to walls and doors, one announcing "Happy Thanksgiving!"--a declaration that strikes Adam as "an ultimatum" rather than well wishes. Disheartened, he leaves the house at dawn for coffee at a shabby airport hotel restaurant, where he meets Marissa, a flight attendant for a discount airline, who is on her way to join her husband's family holiday in Vermont. Four months pregnant from a one-night stand with a former high school boyfriend, Marissa ambivalently contemplates abortion to avoid cratering her already rocky marriage.

On this chance encounter, Feldman (The Book of Jonah) builds a solid story of the blessings of random friendship and the nature of family. Although preoccupied with 12-step aphorisms and self-analysis, Adam is a charmingly amusing loser. The child of a tough, alcoholic single mom, Marissa is quick to anger but also quick to forgive. Together they navigate the rough terrain of their families' holiday festivities--wounded but not defeated. Start Without Me is a sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, wholly gratifying novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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