The Days of Awe, in Judaism, are the annual ten days of introspection and repentance between Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonment. Every day is a day of awe in some respects—a miracle, something to be grateful for. Yet we don’t count them. Over the years they blend until we only remember the occasions, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries. Or we do count them as a prelude to some event. Until an occasion comes, a birth, a wedding, or a funeral. Yes, the days following a funeral are days of awe.
Just as each day is a miracle so is each human being—someone’s terrifying miracle. Isabel Applebaum (now Isabel Moore), mother, wife, teacher, grew up safely cosseted and corseted by the knowledge that she was her mother’s treasure. Isabel grew up knowing the worst had already happened—the loss of their family during the Holocaust.
When Isabel made a new friend Helene would say, Just make sure her family didn’t put ours in the ovens; or Would he hide us in the attic? Yes, Isabel grew up knowing the worst had already happened, which might explain her dark streak—the snide yet accurate observations, the slightly macabre jokes, the off-putting comments (mostly affronting because they are correct).
Only Josie understood that side of Isabel, could run with a joke to places no one else would dare to even glance. Josie is gone. The book opens with her funeral. “There is so much between two friends: love and disappointment, resentment and optimism and a very smudged reflection of your own face.” Much is left unsaid. Equally, some words can’t be unsaid or amended—softened. There is so much to examine, to repent, when your best friend dies.
Fox creates a story, from a death, about life—about the complexities of adulthood: marriage, parenthood, careers, friendship, aging parents, moral questions, the moment when you look for an adult and realize the adult is you. She also explores the Jewish experience through Isabel, a first generation American who keenly feels the sacrifices of her grandparents, but feels like an ordinary person born from extraordinary circumstances with no way to reconcile the two.
Fox’s nonlinear timeline mimics the movement of time during grief—by turns fast and slow, present and past, amorphous and and finite. Josie’s secrets pull a thread of suspense taut through the story. Likewise, Fox’s keen, if sardonic, observations about marriage and parenthood come with their own tensions, mini earthquakes that shake with primordial human truths (and hidden laughter).
This is a wise, surprisingly intimate, work of modern fiction. Fox is adept at converting the psychology of parents and married couples into a believable narrative, and creates a charming anti-heroine in Isabel, an underdog whose bite only matches her vicious bark if someone threatens her daughter. Isabel, following Josie’s death, came to realize “love was foolish and inevitable. We were just waiting to be shattered by it. The days were finite, full of awe.”