Cultural exchange: S.W. Leicher's 'Acts of Atonement'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday July 12, 2022
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author S.W. Leicher
author S.W. Leicher

Manhattan novelist S.W. Leicher's second novel, "Acts of Atonement," picks up where her debut, 2018's "Acts of Assumption," left off, featuring Serach Gottesman and Paloma Rodriguez, two women from disparate cultural backgrounds who embark upon a loving lesbian relationship against all odds.

Readers familiar with Leicher's first novel will recall both women finding love despite their cultural differences: Serach is a Jewish accountant, raised strictly Orthodox, but estranged from her family as the eldest daughter after coming out, while Paloma, a Latina nurse, is Colombian American from the South Bronx.

Their serene unmarried life together extends across many years while living in a large home in Brooklyn's Prospect Park that Paloma inherited from an opera diva. The pair live with their gay concert pianist housemate, Frank, who is colorful and gregarious in ways the women are not.

Now, in 2018, what remains unresolved is the simmering animosity felt by both women toward their families. Paloma's mother is overbearing and disapproving, but her brother Manny and his family visit regularly and with much fanfare, until a secret upends their relationship.

Serach is troubled as well. She has essentially been disowned by her family for being lesbian, which clashes with her Jewish Orthodox roots. She now finds herself ghosted by her brother, Shmuely, who had previously been friendly with her.

The death of Serach's mother reunites the family, but with disastrous results as Serach sinks into a deep depressive state of grief while Paloma tries to sooth her partner's broken heart.

Character confrontations

There is a lot going on in these pages and these intimate conditions set the story up for intense character confrontations and dives deep into intensely personal dilemmas. The narrative looks at each issue from a variety of angles and perspectives, which readers will welcome and appreciate.

A notable peripheral character is Frayda Goldblatt, who was Serach's good friend in the past and whom she has decided to reunite with. Their newfound friendship becomes complex as well but is an engrossing relationship to observe.

Leicher's narrative also delves into the issue of cultural machismo and how that kind of overbearing masculine behavior causes riffs within both of the women's lives. Paloma, for example, bears the weight of her auto body shop owner brother Manny's insistence to teach his mildly disabled son how to shoot a gun in order to defend himself against bullies who consider him a "walking target."

Leicher draws from her own bi-cultural Bronx upbringing in a Latina and Jewish household to lend the novel authenticity and great cultural awareness. Despite a melting pot of themes including mental illness, cultural reclamation, familial strife, and the defense of equality, the author deftly manages to keep all these plates spinning in tandem while retaining the story's momentum and its uncanny sense of urgency.

Leicher, a married woman, believes "we are all somewhat gender- and sexually-fluid," and impressively strikes a fine balance between the interpersonal melodrama of daily life and the ebb and flow of a contemporary lesbian coupling strained by relationship dynamics and bruised by family discord and cultural unrest.

Employing emotion and a bevy of unique and outspoken characters, this novel is best suited to readers who enjoy their fiction interwoven with aspects of religious credence, social justice, and cultural relevance, all secured with a fitting bittersweet ending, of course.

'Acts of Atonement' by S.W. Leicher $19.95 Twisted Road Publications

S.W. Leicher will sign copies and discuss "Acts of Atonement" at Books Inc. in Laurel Village, 3515 California Street, San Francisco on Thursday, July 21 at 7:00 p.m.

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