The Dead Man
By Nora Gold
In her 2014 novel, Fields of Exile, Toronto-based author Nora Gold wrote powerfully about the difficult subject of anti-Zionism on contemporary university campuses. Her latest work of fiction, The Dead Man, delves into middle-aged love and, particularly, obsession.
Eve Bercovitch, a widow and mother of grown children, is a 55-year-old music therapist and composer of Jewish sacred music from Toronto. Six years earlier, she’d had a brief, but very intense love affair in Israel with Jake Gladstone, an older, married Israeli music critic she’d met at a Jewish music conference.
Although Eve and Jake had spent barely more than a couple of weeks together in Israel, and a few months more corresponding by email before Jake, feeling guilty about the effect of the affair on his marriage, called it off, Eve has spent the intervening years in constant obsession over him – to the point that her work as a composer has been at a standstill.
Eve visits Israel regularly over the years and fantasizes about calling him and rekindling their aborted romance. Whenever she passed a payphone during her trips to Israel, Eve dialed Jake’s number. She would hear the sound of his voice when he answered the phone and then hang-up too frightened to speak.
The Dead Man unfolds during Eve’s latest trip to Israel to attend a music therapy workshop in Jerusalem. Once there, Eve discovers there is also a Jewish music conference going on at the same time and adjusts her schedule to attend both events, thinking it likely history will repeat itself: she will encounter Jake at the conference, and their romance will be rekindled.
Much of the book is spent in Eve’s memories as she relives the affair with Jake, remembering every detail of their brief days together. Almost everywhere she goes in Israel triggers more memories. Everything from cafés and hotel rooms, to street corners, and a trip to the kibbutz where Eve’s Israeli relatives live, brings on more memories of what happened from Eve’s first encounter with Jake in Israel through to her return to Canada, including a clandestine visit to Jake’s home while his wife was away.
Gold’s finely crafted writing brings readers deeply into Eve’s obsession with Jake, offering both a well-told tale set in the Israeli and Jewish music world and a psychological study of the darker side of a seemingly normal middle-aged woman. She also provides insights into the character of Jake, a successful music critic, but also a self-centred man who is, perhaps, too caught up in his own tremendous ego.
Ultimately, Eve does speak with Jake and, finally, after six years of obsession, finds closure to the affair and an understanding of why it didn’t – and won’t ever – work out between them; closure that will finally allow her to move forward with her life and career.
The Dead Man is a compelling novel that draws readers into the lives of Eve and Jake. And, as well as these fully developed characters, Gold – who has lived in Israel and regularly spends time there – brings Israel and aspects of Israeli society to life in the pages of The Dead Man.