1929. Buffalo, New York. A beautiful July day, the kind one waits for through the long, cold winters. Sadie Feldstein, née Cohen, looks out her window at the unexpected sight of her brother, Irving. His news is even more unexpected, and unsettling: their elder sister, Goldie, has vanished without a trace.

With Goldie’s disappearance as the catalyst, The First Desire takes us deep into the life of the Cohen
family and an American city, from the Great Depression to the years immediately following World War II. The story of the Cohens is seamlessly told from the various perspectives of siblings Sadie, Jo, Goldie, and Irving—each of whose worlds is upended over the course of the novel, the smooth veneer of their lives giving way to the vulnerabilities and secrets they’ve managed to keep hidden—and through the eyes of Lillian, the beautiful woman their father, Abe, took as a lover as his wife was dying. But while Abe’s affair with Lillian stuns his children, they are even more shocked by his cold anger in the wake of Goldie’s disappearance.

The First Desire is a book of great emotional power that brings to life the weave of love, grief, tradition, and desire that binds a family together, even through the tumultuous times that threaten to tear it apart.
“Dreamy . . . voluptuous . . . deeply felt . . . A book of sharp, intense nuances [whose] characters are evoked with extraordinary precision . . . It shares an intoxicating lyricism with the work of Ann Patchett and Andrea Barrett . . . Lovely and heartbreaking…[Reisman] is a striking new writer.”
–Janet Maslin, New York Times

“A saga of heartbreaks large and small that taken together feel remarkably like real life. Only fiction can feel as real as this–and only in the right hands . . . Reisman writes as impressionists paint, getting at the essence of a thing in a way that realism never does. The prose is assured and brave, dreamlike and dead-on . . . You come to know the characters better than they know themselves. Small revelations register with the reader like tiny seismic shocks . . . [Reisman] uses the whitewater of Niagara and the blue snow of a Buffalo night to signify changes in atmosphere and mood. But you needn’t be from Buffalo to be swept away by The First Desire. You need only be from a family.”
–Erik Brady, USA Today

“Gorgeous . . . The book [has a] rich, melancholy atmosphere, a continuing testament to the paradoxical ease with which family ties unravel . . . Reisman delves to the innermost core of her characters . . . [Her] narrative allows the reader the utmost proximity to the strangers within it . . . At times Reisman’s tone has a directness and a sensuality reminiscent of Virginia Woolf . . . The novel’s psychological realism is impeccable . . . Intensely affecting and thought-provoking.”
–Ruth Franklin, Washington Post Book World

“Marvelous . . . Comparisons will follow–[e.g.] with Michael Cunningham or Julia Glass. But this writer tak[es] her own bold course . . . Exceptional.”
–Elsbeth Lindner, The Boston Globe

“Accomplished . . . Reisman’s sumptuous prose, and her canny knowledge of the corrosive ways an average family can come apart, make The First Desire a lovely, absorbing companion.”
–Karen Karbo, Entertainment Weekly (editor’s choice)

“Reisman writes beautifully, a prose of restraint and grace.  The achievement of this novel is that you are completely inside it from the moment you begin . . . This is a story that has the shape of life as it is truly lived.”
–Anna Quindlen, Book-of-the-Month Club News

“Haunting . . . Reisman’s genius [is having] produced a book that generates its own world and holds the reader captive, willingly, to its landscape. Reisman creates this miracle through the power of her writing. She reveals her scenery as artfully as a master cinematographer, and she’s a sure shot with the killing detail . . . She tells the story beautifully and compellingly . . . [One character] wonders: ‘How is it that the living die and the dead surreptitiously live?’ The answer to that question is, of course, central to the meaning of our human mystery.”
–Marianne Wiggins, San Francisco Chronicle

“Intense and moving . . . Epic . . . Universal and urgent [questions] power the narrative. How does one exist in a family while also existing apart from it? Can you ever truly loosen (or lose) your family ties, even if you travel across the country, across the world? . . . Aside from the grace of the writing, The First Desire astonishes most in the intimacy it grants us with five fully realized characters.”
–Laura Wexler, Atlanta Journal Constitution

“A superb new writer . . . Reisman, whose sensually charged, often outright stunning style strongly evokes Virginia Woolf … proves herself a rare master of internal drama, able to isolate the moment that effects a sea change within a lifetime of compromise”

“Sentence by sentence, this is an exquisite story of family. Reisman writes with assuredness and tenderness . . . She writes of the unbreakable though fragile ties among siblings; devotion to parents, beyond their lives; how a family is much more than anything any one of them might have created . . . [And she] captures the small moments of life.”
–Sandee Brawarsky, The Jewish Week

“A triumph . . . Gorgeous . . . [Reisman] proves herself Virginia Woolf’s equal in sketching how interior vistas can collide with exterior limits in women’s lives. The First Desire is a marvelous testament to how family can both sustain and destroy us, a delicate dance through the family minefields, written in language both limpid and wise . . . We will not have room to say enough [about] the wonder of Reisman’s prose . . . Wonderful.”
–Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press

“Reisman’s hypnotic prose makes her . . . characters live. And her sympathy and wealth of detail make the Cohens’ world our own: specific, inescapably flawed, unpredictably meaningful and very, very real.”

“[A] major literary triumph . . . The First Desire inhabits Buffalo, in its intimate, subtly shaded way, every bit as fully and historically as Lauren Belfer’s City of Light . . . Beautifully written . . . Moving.”
–Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

“An intensely beautiful family drama . . . Reisman’s luminous debut novel is mesmerizing.”
Working Mother magazine (recommended book)

“Mesmerizing . . . Reisman demonstrates a rare, poetic understanding of family dynamics. The catalyst for this narrative about the hidden dramas of a Jewish family living in Buffalo from the late 1920s to 1950 occurs offstage. Rebecca Cohen, wife of jewelry store owner Abe, has died, leaving five adult children. Goldie, the eldest, on whom the responsibility for caring for her siblings has fallen, suddenly disappears without a word . . . The others yearn to flee their responsibilities, but the years roll by until another family crisis brings Goldie home. The echoing word in the narrative is loneliness, used to signify each character’s inchoate longings for connection, understanding, ‘touching’ (another signal word) and love. Reisman writes with beauty and precise imagery; she describes one character’s personality as ‘carp under ice, nibbling ancient disappointments.’ This realism, subtly laced with tenderness and compassion, distinguishes a novel whose addictive embrace continues after the last page has been turned.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The paradox [of] longing for home and longing to leave [is what Reisman] writes about so eloquently and with such keen insight . . . In luminous, unsparing prose she allows us to inhabit the inner world of her characters.”
–Katherine Wyrick, Bookpage

“This is a stealth novel. The characters creep up on you, and before you know it you are inhabiting their world, attuned to intimate details, desires and desperate measures invisible to outside eyes. A lovely read.”
–Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies

“Nancy Reisman’s first novel is an exquisitely detailed tapestry depicting a small era in the life of one family. How beautifully she writes about the subtle dramas that roil for decades among parents and siblings, about the ways in which the commitment of kinship can make people deeply, unavoidably intimate yet often just as blind to one another’s vices, failings, and secret desires. It is a book written with the wisdom bestowed by heartbreak and the complex poetry of truth.”
–Julia Glass, author of Three Junes

“I had been wondering for a while when I might be moved and completely engaged by a novel. The First Desire has broken a long dry spell. And for that I thank Nancy Reisman. What a gorgeous book she has given us. Every moment in The First Desire feels earned. Reading this novel is a rich, complicated, absorbing and altogether transformative experience: tears are still stinging my eyes. I love this book.”
–Dani Shapiro, author of Family History

“Nancy Reisman has written a book in which the sentences are so lush, the characters are so vivid, and the story is so compelling, I felt I had stepped inside the world she created and had taken up residence. I want to tell you how much I loved it there. The First Desire is not a book to be merely read. It is a book to be lived.”
–Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto

“Like Virginia Woolf’s The Years, this rich tapestry–a first novel, amazingly–captures both the overarching history of a family and the deepest emotions of each of its members. Reisman is a wonderful writer.”
–Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever

“There is not a false move in Nancy Reisman’s The First Desire, one of the best tales I have ever read both about belonging to a family and about what the book calls ‘the second desire,’ the wish to be invisible, to disappear from that family, and to vanish into the American landscape.”
–Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love

“Nancy Reisman’s The First Desire is, simply, the most beautifully written novel I’ve read in ages, a book that is as merciless and tender as real life. There’s something of the work of Sue Miller and Alice Munro in this wonderful book: Reisman’s characters are people who will live in your head for a long time after reading The First Desire. She writes better than anyone about the small heartbreaks and large tragedies of family life–what you give up to stay in a family, and what you give up to leave.”
–Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Giant’s House

The First Desire is a debut novel of startling assurance and poise; it takes that complicated subject, family, and makes of it a layered skein and braided narrative. Nancy Reisman gives us characters who cross the continent and ocean, but the heart of this heartfelt story beats in Buffalo, New York. In prose both lyric and precise she offers a series of studies of women and men together, alone, and their several solos amount to a chorale. This is what Yeats meant by ‘dying generations at their song,’ and it should be widely read.”
–Nicholas Delbanco, author of What Remains

“Nancy Reisman’s is a gentle sensibility, an ostensibly soft impressionism that is also a hard, deft, precise, odd and dreamlike logic. The First Desire is as compelling as a dream, a good one, perfectly weird and true.”
–Padgett Powell, author of Edisto

The First Desire really is extraordinary work. The prose is consistently lovely–I’d say elegant or graceful, but somehow those over-used terms feel almost inadequate. There’s a kind of shocking beauty to the sensuousness of the language–a startling gorgeousness that goes beyond mere elegance or grace. I suspect that’s the key to the rich intimacy of the characterizations which lie at the core of the book. To get beneath the skin, to climb into the very hearts of such a range of figures, and at such a remove of years, is a remarkable achievement, and the spark breathed into these varied characters brings their family, their community, the whole mid-century bustle of Buffalo, to burning life. In short, this feels, to me at least, like the kind of book that can (and should) win prizes.”
–Peter Ho Davies, author of Equal Love

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