Category Archives: Bender, Karen

Karen E. Bender. A Town of Empty Rooms. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2013.

empty roomsWhen you grow up someplace, or live there for a very long time, you don’t notice the things like the weather, the food, the buildings, or the shared cultural expectations that make your  hometown distinctive.  But any of those can be jarring to an outsider.  That’s the case for Serena Hirsch and Dan Shine, a married couple who move with their two young children from New York City to the (fictitious) town of Waring, North Carolina.  Both Serena and Dan are deeply unsettled by the death of a close relative and by the inexplicable crime committed by Serena that precipitated their move from New York.

Dan, ever optimistic, believes that his new job in Waring will work out and that the family will eventually feel at home in the town.  To help his son Zeb fit in, Dan and Zeb join the Boys Scouts.  Dan is thrilled to become an assistant troop leader under the direction of his next-door neighbor, Forrest Sanders.  But Serena’s experience of Forrest is different from that of her husband, and her uneasiness about Forrest only deepens the chasm between her and Dan.

Serena hopes that she has found her place at Temple Shalom, the only Jewish synagogue in Waring.  In no time at all, she is working part-time at the synagogue and is on the board.  Her work with the temple strengthens her religious identification and gives her the resolve to push back against the Christian cultural hegemony that she and her children experience.  But all is not well at the temple, and Serena is buffed by conflicts within the congregation.

A Town of Empty Rooms is at its center a novel about the messages that we carry inside ourselves from our upbringings and the imperfect ways we struggle to make sense of our place in the world.  Setting Serena and Dan’s struggle in North Carolina allows long-time Tar Heels to consider their state anew.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Bender, Karen, Novels Set in Fictional Places