Katz, Judith. “Running Fiercely Toward a High Thin Sound”, Bywater Books, 2017.
The 25th Anniversary Special Edition
Judith Katz takes a look at a Jewish family with three daughters. Nadine’s (née Morningstar) leaves the family home and moves escapes from her incendiary Jewish family into the lesbian town of New Chelm. She sees this not so much as a move but rather as an escape. Originally published in 1992, the book won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction.
Most of the plot is about two of the sisters. Nadine is a troubled violin player, who has been estranged from her family since the Friday evening she set her hair on fire; and Jane, who is thought to be the good daughter”. Jane, however, does not see herself as such and issues are raised as she gets ready to be the maid of honor in the wedding of the third sister, Electa. Both Nadine Jane’s now live in New Chelm, the lesbian Jewish community. After accidentally running into each other, they face several events that take them back to the family. The girls’ mother shares that preparations for her daughter’s wedding remind her of her childhood dream of becoming a rabbi.
Succinctly said the plot goes like this: “Nadine Pagan’s dyke sister Jane wants to find her. Her lover Rose wants to marry her. And her mother Fay wants to forget her. All Nadine wants is to stop the buzzing in her head.”
The story centers on the experiences of Nadine and Jane Morningstar and the themes of alienation, familial dysfunction, coming-of-age, identity formation, drug addiction, and obsessive romance. The novel is character-driven and author Katz has indeed created unforgettable characters and we not only see but also understand and experience their struggles. While this is on the surface a book about lesbians and Jews, it is so much more than that as it examines the human condition in modern society.
The magical realism of the plot reminded me of writings by Isaac Bashevis Singer and it is fascinating to see how Katz took her world and made it contemporary. Others have mentioned that they did not care for this but I, personally, loved it.