“It’s 1929, and Edith and Reuben Merkal, a couple from Long Island, are living the charmed life. Then the stock market crashes, ushering in the Great Depression. Reuben loses his construction business as well as the house he built for Edith and named ‘Bliss.’ The Merkals are victims of the times. Even so, they blame themselves and each other for their misfortunes. At first, Edith watches helplessly as a devastated Reuben does nothing about finding work. Eventually, she takes a job as a salesgirl, and comes to relish her growing independence. After Reuben reluctantly becomes involved with Sea Forth’s small Jewish community as it fashions a response to an anti-Semitic incident, he begins to understand the reasons behind his life-long ambivalence toward his religion. His awakened sense of responsibility towards Europe’s beleaguered Jewish population helps him put his own problems in perspective.” ( from the book-cover)
The End of Bliss is the absorbing tale of one couple’s experience of the Great Depression and it’s aftermath (1929-1942). From the very first page I knew that late nights were in store, as I became more and more invested in finding out what choices would be made and what the consequences would be. I did, however, have to take a break after the first chapter to analyze why I was having emotional difficulties with the reading. This is not usual so early on in a book, but I realized that the story line was just hitting a bit too close to home, bringing up struggles I’ve experienced in the current economy and reminding me of the foreclosures that friends may be facing.
Rhonda Ringler Cutler has crafted a story of characters going through a time of struggle and change, and the results are wonderfully, achingly bittersweet. The characters are more understandable than relatable, and not necessarily likeable. The transformations that they and their relationships go through are riveting, though not always pleasant. The only word I can think of to describe the “marital relations” and extra-marital activities is dismal. Sex is, in general, a dismal thing in this book, but this suits the story and fits the characters.
I read this book in January 2014 (the above review was originally posted on GoodReads & BookLikes, and has been slightly edited here), and the feelings it evoked come right back as I consider it for my Monthly Recommendations list for March 2016’s stand-alone theme. An aspect of this book that still stands out to me, though not mentioned in the review above, is the ending. I do try not to give spoilers, so I’ll simply say that I recall it being a bit abrupt but well timed for the story, incredibly poignant, and sadly true to the time in which it is set.
The End of Bliss stands out as one of the best self-published books I have read (David Moore’s Stonebridge Conspiracy is another). This is the first published novel by Rhonda Ringler Cutler. I look forward to rereading it at some point, and hope that she has more to come.
4/5 stars, highly recommended for those who enjoy their Depression era historical fiction with some grit.
The End of Bliss by Rhonda Ringler Cutler | Fairlight Press, 2013 | paperback, 364pgs | ISBN 978-0615697642
My (signed) copy was won through the Good Reads First Reads program with the cover art prior to the one shown above, and I must say I prefer this newer version. Though the giveaway guidelines encourage winners to post an honest review, I was not required to write one, and certainly not to republish it.