The Beautiful Possible lovingly reflects every moment of the 10 years that Amy Gottlieb spent working on her novel. In a book that reads as though every word has been carefully polished to a fine patina, Gottlieb gives her readers a richly detailed narrative. As Gottlieb guides her characters from the 1930s to the beginning of the 21st century, the novel vibrates with the tension of allowing them to grow or be stifled. This tension arises naturally from the characters exceptional humanity. Gottlieb’s characters are flawed. They are faced with feelings and choices they never expected and struggle to understand, much less accept or act upon them. They would almost be too plodding and ordinary if it were not for Gottlieb’s relentless emotional force driving her characters to face themselves and her readers to turn the pages.
Gottlieb makes excellent use of her extensive Jewish scholarship, weaving traditional texts, methods and ideas into the souls of her characters and story. Their lives are inextricably linked to their faith, and the novel is firmly entrenched in the particulars of post-war suburban American Jewish life. Although she does use some specific terminology, most readers with a passing acquaintance with American Judaism will be able to follow along easily. A wider non-Jewish audience may struggle with the particularity of the setting. Similarly, readers with strong opinions or experiences with the Conservative Movement, JTS, or clergy families are most likely to have an insider view, both for better and worse.
The Beautiful Possible is an intimate portrait of family life, and the individual lives that shape it. Readers who prefer more sweeping sagas and events may find the closeness of the lens to be discomfiting. Those who allow themselves to be tucked into the baggage and carried along will be most satisfied.