Kaaterskill Falls is the second book I’ve read by Allegra Goodman. I enjoyed the previous book I had read by her, Intuition, so when I was trying to think of some good fiction to read I decided to try another one of her books. Kaaterskill Falls did not immediately grab me, and it was very different from Intuition, but once I got into it I found it well worth the time.
The story centers on a group of Orthodox Jews who live in New York City during the year and in a small town in the Catskills, Kaaterskill Falls, in the summer. There is no one main character in the story, but rather the loosely woven plot follows several characters. It is almost like short stories rather than a novel, except that the stories are all intertwined and the narration switches between them. The unifying theme is that each character is struggling in some way with his or her spiritual identity. There are many insightful passages that convey a nuanced and complex view on the questions of identity, religion, life, and death.
Perhaps I particularly enjoyed Kaaterskill Falls because I have Jewish ancestry and I have thought quite a bit about what it means to be Jewish. I come to the subject from a completely secular point of view, however, and found it very interesting to read about Orthodox Jews. I am vaguely aware of but not familiar with many of the Orthodox customs. I don’t mean to imply that the book can only be enjoyed if you are Jewish, however – I think the themes that Goodman addresses are not particular to Judaism, but general questions of life, religion, and identity.
There is one suprising thing about Goodman’s style: when I started the book I was startled by the fact that it was in the present tense. Then I remembered that I had been startled by the same thing when I read Intuition. It took me a little while to settle into it and then it felt natural.
I definitely recommend Kaaterskill Falls, and look forward to reading more of Allegra Goodman’s books.