Holding My Breath, by Sidura Ludwig. Published 2008 by Key Porter Books. Literary Fiction.
Holding My Breath is a coming of age story, about a young Jewish girl named Beth Levy growing up in Canada. It's author Sidura Ludwig's first novel, and it's okay as these things go.
Beth is an only child, and is born into a family dominated by women with strong, conflicting personalities. Her mother Goldie longs for suburban convention and conformity, Beth's aunt Carrie, a skilled seamstress, tries to get by as an unmarried woman with a secret, and her aunt Sarah wants to be a star.
Beth herself is a very ordinary girl, pressured by her mother to lead the kind of life she wanted, filled with tea parties, children, a husband and a pink-collar job. I liked Beth, and all the characters- even unstable, headed-for-trouble Sarah. I liked Carrie best of all, the career woman and the quiet sister, who cares for Beth so beautifully and does her best to keep her niece on a good path. I think a very good novel could be written about this understated, complicated woman.
The book's suspense lies in seeing what path Beth will choose, and how she will come to her decisions. Her choices are lined up and dissected, and her final destination takes shape somewhat predictably, if quickly. In the mean time she faces down challenges, deals with family secrets and tragedies, and confronts the perils of growing up. The family is firmly planted in the Jewish community of Winnipeg and part of Beth's journey involves confronting feelings of difference and anti-Semitism as she steps tentatively beyond it.
On balance I enjoyed Holding My Breath and found it to be a quick, light read. Ludwig's style is somewhat bland and monotonous, but she shows skill in creating different characters and bouncing them off each other. It's not a particularly flashy or exciting novel, but it's solid and good and competent. I'd like to see Ludwig step it up a little next time- vary her writing a little, maybe introduce a little more emotion and a little drama and friction. Along the way the family experiences a huge disruption, but the shock waves barely registered to me- I wish she had made me feel the impact a little more. And that can be said of much of the book- I enjoyed it well enough but I felt like she was holding back. Next time I hope she lets herself go a little.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.