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During a family gathering, eighty-two year old Norman Cohen becomes incensed. A causal remark about his father releases long repressed memories. For the first time Norman realizes the extent of his parents lengthy mistreatment of himself, their oldest son. He slips into depression. To salve his anguish and eventually find redemption, he crafts with brutal honesty a memoir that his son edits. The end product is a kaleidoscope of family history reaching back to the nineteenth century immigrants who settle in a small Pennsylvania town in the low-end neighborhood of Chicken Hill.
Three generations of Jewish life are vividly portrayed in this gripping narrative. Led by the family patriarch, the first generation of greenhorn immigrants launch new lives in a strange English-speaking Christian world devoid of Jewish institutions and so unlike that of the Galician shtetl. The second generation is generally successful in both business and professions with the exception of the eldest daughter and her hapless husband. Their son Norman, the first child of the third generation, puts aside his own college ambitions. He dutifully assists in the family enterprise, a shoe store. There is a Depression, after all, and family finances are tight, right? But Norman does not understand. Why does his mother treat him so poorly? What is the true basis for his quashed dreams?