All I Know and Love by Judith Frank

Rabbi Melanie Aron writes:

Most parents have the experience of having to choose guardians for their children in the event that they lost both parents, but thankfully, these circumstances rarely come to past. Some of us may have agreed to be guardians for the children of family and friends, without really appreciating all of the implications of that commitment.

In the novel, All I Know and Love, Daniel and Matt, a couple still building their relationship together, become parents over night, when Daniel’s twin brother Joel and his wife Ilana are killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Though both Daniel and Ilana’s parents are still alive, it is Daniel who was chosen and who agreed to take on this responsibility.

The author, Judith Frank, is convincing in her portrayal of the effects of grief on Joel and Ilana’s family, including the two young children they leave behind, Gal and Noam, at almost six and under one year. Frank gives Matt, the non-Jewish member of the couple, many stereotypical leftie views about Israel, which don’t completely jive with the rest of his character. Their expression seems gratuitous. Daniel’s ambivalence towards Israel, as Jew from a Zionist background with a progressive outlook seems more true to his character especially when he expresses his discomfort at his brother’s death being used for political reasons.

While Daniel and Matt love their niece and nephew, raising them in place of their parents is quite difficult. The challenge of being parents, especially to young children who have been traumatized and especially as the adult who are the parents are still reeling from their losses, comes through in this book. The special relationship of being a twin is another focus, as well as the role that friends play not only in offering support, but also as foils and sources of challenge.

Frank does not avoid issues that come up because the main characters are gay men. This includes concerns about their treatment in Israeli family court and the special complications that are a result of Matt and Daniel not being married as the book begins, and thus Matt being even more of an outsider to Daniel’s extended family. She gives us glimpses into gay relationships in a time when AIDS remains a very serious concern. She also gives us insight into more intimate aspects of their relationship ,and to their definition of themselves as gay men vis a vis family and society.

For me the strongest element in this book was the way the author forced the characters to look at themselves with brutal honesty and to face up to their own weaknesses and less admirable characteristics. I found myself caring a great deal about these people as I was turning the pages, and think you will too.