Graduate Bookshelf

Prayers for the Living


Alan Cheuse


Prayers for the Living, National Public Radio commentator Alan Cheuse’s mythic story of the American Dream gone to pieces, is both grand in its vision and loving in its familiarity. Presented in a series of conversations between grandmother Minnie Bloch and her companions, the novel creates a layered family portrait of three generations of the Bloch family, whose members are collapsing under everyday burdens and brutal betrayals.

Her son Manny is a renowned, almost legendary rabbi. Respected by his congregants and surrounded by family, he yearns secretly for a life of greater personal glory. When an oracular bird delivers what Manny believes to be a message from his deceased father, he abandons his pulpit in pursuit of a life in business, and his entire life spirals out of control.

As his fortunes rise in the corporate realm, Manny falls deeper into an affair with a congregant; his wife’s alcoholism and depression become more profound; and his daughter Sarah is sexually traumatized at a nearby college. Incapable of offering either his wife or daughter the support they need, Manny becomes the target of Sarah’s plot to shatter his beloved new empire.

The devoted family matriarch, Minnie, observes and recounts her family’s tragic downfall with language as realistic and incantatory as any dreamer’s can be. Move over Ishmael, here comes Minnie Bloch.