Lydia Rosen’s inane chatter about bourekas during the flight to Israel baffles Matt Greene. To his partner, Daniel Rosen, his mother’s preoccupation with the stuffed pastry makes total sense. “She’s trying not to have to imagine how much of her son’s body has been blown to bits,” he explains. But the grim reality intrudes when Daniel, his parents, and Matt land at the Tel Aviv airport and are transported directly to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Jerusalem. There, amidst indescribable, horrific odors and the sound of crying and wailing, the family is asked to identify Joel’s body.
Daniel’s twin brother and sister-in-law are among 16 people killed by a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem café. Joel and Ilana leave behind a six-year-old daughter, Gal, and a one-year-old son, Noam. Their parents are heartbroken, and Daniel is not only inconsolable, he is also unmoored by the seismic shift that has occurred in his relationship with his lifelong rival, the brother who always outshone him.
At this time of unbearable pain and family tensions, Daniel and Matt are instantly going to become parents. During a recent visit Joel and Ilana had said that if anything happened to them, they wanted Daniel to raise their two children with Matt in their home in Northampton, Massachusetts. They specifically intended to spare Gal and Noam the type of upbringing they had received at the hands of their respective parents.
Matt has always had an easy rapport with Gal, but is meeting Noam for the first time. “You don’t think we’ll ruin them, do you?” he asks after enjoying some tender moments with the baby. “I think somebody has already done that for us,” Daniel wearily responds. What is also weighing on Daniel’s mind is that no one besides he and Matt know of Joel and Ilana’s wishes. The attorney will be the one to break the news when he reads the will after the shiva, the first seven days of Jewish mourning.
Unable to appreciate the fact that she will be able to see her grandchildren more if they grow up in the United States, Lydia launches into a critique of Matt, claiming that he is too shallow and vain to handle parenthood. Ilana’s parents, who live in Jerusalem, are faced with more than bruised egos. As Holocaust survivors whose only child was just killed, if their grandchildren are taken out of Israel, they will in essence again be left without living relatives.
The will is challenged and a lengthy evaluation process takes place. Matt returns to work in Massachusetts, both for financial reasons and also to keep their gay relationship out of the spotlight. At his brother’s apartment in Jerusalem Daniel receives his first visit from an Israeli caseworker. While he hopes to demonstrate his potential as a parent, everything goes so wrong that the reader is treated to an unexpected inerlude of sidesplitting hilarity.
Everything that Judith Frank presents in All I Love and Know is so stunningly right it’s as if she is a master gem cutter who brings to light exquisite facets in a stone. Among the topics that she deftly handles are how a one-year-old and a six-year-old exhibit grief, the strain that loss places on a romantic relationship, how language barriers give rise to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, searing disagreements about Palestinian-Israeli politics, and the price a person pays for not seeking help that is clearly needed.
In a 2009 interview published in the Amherst Magazine, Frank states that she encourages her writing students at Amherst College to, “come to understand their own processes and to live in them and use them to their advantage.” She has found, for example, that she has a half hour concentration span as a writer and no longer pushes herself to extend it. If Frank crafted this novel in half hour segments, then her approach is brilliant.