Wednesday, May 07, 2014

New Yesterday: The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman

Guggenheim Fellow, Ellen Feldman, wows us with her fifth novel, The Unwitting (Spiegel & Grau).

Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Cold War as it was experienced in the United States, we join young magazine writer Nell Benjamin on November 22, 1963, as she gets some distressing news. Yes: it is the day President Kennedy was shot, and that’s distressing enough. But what Nell learns impacts her on a much more personal level. Her husband, the hotshot editor of a literary magazine and a man she thought she knew thoroughly, has betrayed her in a very complete way, and not with another woman.

There is a lot going on in The Unwitting. In some ways it is a stylish portrait of love and marriage. In another it reveals an America in the throes of horrible change, still dealing with the fallout of the McCarthy era and preparing to take its place on the international Cold War stage.

The Unwitting is unexpected. Compelling enough to take its place with the best of crime fiction, Feldman’s language is loving, bright and sharp while her storytelling abilities are unquestionable here. The Unwitting cuts us into an interesting time, then ramps things up.

Feldman’s novel, Scottsboro, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Feldman is clearly a writer who is going places, The Unwitting brings that home: it’s a terrific book. ◊

Sienna Powers is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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