Book: One magical day

In Joshua Max Feldman’s latest novel, two strangers meet on Thanksgiving and change the course of their lives.

A cartoon of a Thanksgiving family. (photo credit: TIM BEDISON/TNS)
A cartoon of a Thanksgiving family.
(photo credit: TIM BEDISON/TNS)
On Thanksgiving, Adam Warshaw wakes up in his parents’ home for the first time in years. A former musician and recovering alcoholic, Adam is now working in a bank and living a predictable and unauthentic life in San Francisco, far from his Massachusetts hometown.
When he arrived, his family welcomed him warmly, but he feels that he doesn’t really belong and they are uncomfortable in his presence. Adam’s family has seen him at his worst, and he is sure they expect him to slip right back into the intoxicated persona they all remember so well. Adam himself expects this. He feels distant from everyone, even his sister, Kristen, who was once his closest ally in the family.
When he awakes in the basement of the family home on Thanksgiving morning, Adam feels that he just cannot make it through the entire holiday with his family. Although he has gone through rehab twice and has not had a drink in months, a drink is what he wants.
He struggles with his desire to escape and after he breaks a glass coffee pot while the rest of the household is still asleep, he slips out the door, leaving shards of glass on the kitchen floor. Adam gets into his rental car and drives away, although he is not sure where he is going.
Marissa is a flight attendant on the way to her in-law’s home in Vermont for a “picture-perfect” Thanksgiving dinner with her husband and his eclectic family. Marissa and her sister, Caitlyn, were raised by an alcoholic single mother who never told them who their father was and moved them from one cheap decrepit Boston apartment to another, often leaving them alone for hours as children.
Marissa’s husband, Robbie, is a struggling script-writer who has no problem taking the money his parents hand him freely. His affluent parents, a black father and a Jewish mother, are more than happy to give them whatever cash they need and Robbie cannot understand Marissa’s desire to earn a paycheck and be independent of her in-law’s bank account. Marissa has never really felt at home with Robbie’s family and is not looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with them.
Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, the Norman Rockwell happy family sitting around the table. A picture that – for people like Adam and Marissa – only exists in fantasy. On Thanksgiving morning, Adam and Marissa meet at a coffee shop; two strangers randomly meeting, each one embroiled within his and her own feelings of emptiness and lack of certainty about the future.
While outwardly they have nothing in common, inside they are both searching for their place in life within their families and within the world. They strike up a conversation, finding some sort of rapport, but when they go their separate ways they do not expect ever to see each other again.
“And so, Marissa concluded, that’s that. They’d shared a cup of coffee and a Diet Coke, and now they’d drift out of each other’s lives, the same way they’d drifted in. Maybe that was the final comfort of strangers: It was never too long before you said goodbye.”
Nonetheless, they run into each other by chance again a short while later. Marissa is in her car ready to drive to Vermont when she spots Adam, who has just returned his rental car and still unsure of where he wants to go.
Considering returning to his parents’ home, he tells her, “My house, my parent’s house, could not be more on the way.” She offers him a ride and the result is a Thanksgiving Day that neither of them are likely to forget.
In Start Without Me, Joshua Max Feldman, who also wrote The Book of Jonah, skillfully draws the reader into Adam and Marissa’s lives, their struggles, fears, and dreams. His writing is honest and straightforward, he tells the story without going off in numerous tangents. The whole book focuses on a single day, one in which against all odds, Marissa and Adam meet and become friends.
Start Without Me is about the struggle to establish your own identity and be honest with yourself and others. All Marissa and Adam really want is to be accepted and appreciated for who they are. On one chilly Thanksgiving Day, they make a difference in each other’s lives and Feldman tells their story with finesse.
Start Without Me is an absorbing read, so absorbing that if you can take the time, you might find yourself reading the whole book in one sitting.