The Matchmaker's Gift, by Lynda Cohen Loigman, tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter who share a special ability.
I've really enjoyed Lynda Cohen Loigman's other novels, The Wartime Sisters and The Two-Family House. The Two-Family House is a warm, complicated, character-driven family story that hinges on a wild coincidence. I loved the book and recommend it, but readers really do have to just roll with one unrealistic event. Here in The Matchmaker's Gift, there's a magical realism element instead, with the character-driven family novel, which somehow makes it all easier to accept. Sara, and her granddaughter Abby, can both see a special golden light connecting true love.
There are two storylines in this novel. One is a historical story of Sara Glikman, a new immigrant to New York City with a supernatural gift for matchmaking. Sometimes these pairings are romance-novel perfection, like getting her sad sister to borrow a handkerchief from her future brother-in-law, and starting their long and happy marriage. But sometimes it's comical, when she notices that the heirs of two rival deli are soulmates, or stressful, like discovering her boyfriend is very much meant for someone else. Sara's storyline blends her supernatural power with the struggles of the family restarting their life in a new country.
Matchmaking is the usual way to meet a spouse in the Glikmans' Jewish community, but unfortunately for Sara, the existing matchmakers aren't too pleased with some else taking their job and their profits. I guess my picture of a Jewish matchmaker was the neighborhood yenta, with many single nieces and nephews to introduce to other single nephews and nieces from other good families, like some of the scenes in Last Summer at The Golden Hotel. Instead, these are old-school, old-country matchmakers, mostly men. This blend of Sara's magical abilities, plus the customs and struggles of her Jewish New York life makes such a great story. There are so many historical meet-cutes, thanks to Sara.
The second storyline is about Sara’s granddaughter, Abby. It's not quite modern-day, the Manhattan divorce lawyer storyline really feels like a half-remembered 80s movie. After her grandmother's death, Abby begins to read her grandmother's old journals and finds notes and comments about the couples Sara brought together. As she reads (and grieves for her grandmother, in realistic and moving scenes), Abby begins to notice the same kind of golden light, with similar unintended consequences in her own life. As a busy divorce lawyer, it's particularly stressful to see clearly who really should be together.
I don't always love dual timeline novels because they can be jumpy, but in this case, I felt like I was reading two very solid, compelling novels. They're two wildly different stories, one about bringing the old-country customs to New York, and one eighties romcom, tied together by family.
There's an exploration into the not-perfect matches in both timelines. I think most of us have a perfectly nice ex or two -- someone who was a good person, but just not quite right. The novel explores a few different relationships between good people who genuinely like each other, but who just aren't meant to be. I found this touching and realistic.
And this paragraph is a mild spoiler, because this part comes pretty far along in the story, but I don't think it destroys any tension to share it. Later in life, Sara's special observation also highlights women in unsafe marriages. Again, there's a magical realism here with the practical realities of getting women to safety, and again, we see the connections of the community. This continues to add depth and complexity to our characters.
Overall, I enjoyed this book so much. It was an incredibly fast read for me because I just couldn't wait to see what kind of true love and/or disasters their golden light would bring about next! And I also wanted to read slowly to have more time with Sara and Abby.
The Matchmaker's Gift is written by Lynda Cohen Loigman and will be published by St. Martin's Press on September 20, 2022. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC, all my opinions are my own, as always.
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