THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY HAS ASKED ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON
PVT BENJAMIN GREENFIELD HAS BEEN MISSING IN ACTION IN KOREA SINCE 16 JUL 50 UPON RECEIPT
OF FURTHER INFORMATION IN THIS OFFICE YOU WILL BE ADVISED IMMEDIATELY PD CONFIRMING LETTER
-- EDWARD F. WITSELL MAJOR GENERAL USA THE ADJUTANT GENERAL OF THE
The effect of this telegram on Eva and Sol Greenfield, Ben Greenfield's parents, is devastating. Eva, an Orthodox Jewish woman, her son missing in action in the war in Korea, goes to a Gypsy fortune teller for comfort. A finalist for the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, In a Cold Open Field explores the developing relationship between the two women. It is a poignant portrait of a mother's desperate need to deny the death of her child.
|What the Critics are Saying|
From Kirkus Reviews, 06/01/97:
This Drue Heinz Literature Prize finalist poignantly details a devout woman's flagrantly unorthodox response to the news that her only son is missing in action. More novella than novel, not just in length but preoccupation, this perfectly calibrated story is as much a memorable portrait of grief as a touching example of the infinitely varied ways the human heart responds to loss. On May 13, 1951, Mother's Day, Momma Greenfield leaves husband Sol and their Williamsburg apartment and heads for Coney Island. She's a devout Orthodox Jew who's always thought Coney Island a wicked and ungodly place, but now she goes there in search of someone who can tell her the truth. Her only son Ben is missing in action in Korea, and while Sol is resigned to their son's possible death, Momma is not. The misspelled sign GYPSY PRINCESS ZOE: ASTRALAGY READINGS in an encouragingly clean window entices her in, and, inside, the exotically dressed Zoe seems to know exactly why Momma is there. Comforted by Zoe's sympathetic response and amazing clairvoyance, she readily agrees to help the woman bring Ben back. Zoe is a superb con artist, and her stratagems, while easing Momma's pain, are expensive. Over a period of weeks she insists that Momma bring her thousands of dollars, a chicken, and a suit of new clothes so that the necessary rituals can be observed, and Momma, her grief assuaged by her faith in Zoe, and certain that Ben is coming home, happily complies. Meanwhile, Sol is worried by Momma's increasingly bizarre behavior and reactions--she refuses to mourn when they learn that Ben is indeed dead--but can do nothing. Only when Zoe is unmasked as a crook does Momma finally accept the truth that her son is gone and must be appropriately mourned. Klass (A Perpetual Surprise, 1991, etc.) delivers a moving story, though not quite big enough to fill out a novel's more expansive lineaments.
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