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When you were a child, did you ever hold a glass up to a wall to hear a conversation happening in the room next to you? Make and utilize tin can telephones? If you grew up in the onslaught of walkie-talkies, did you dream of being able to hear the voices of others through distances near and far?
If so, then Sarah B. Burghauser’s book Infringe is sure to please you. With a voice both startlingly clear and dizzyingly far away, Burghauser captures the telescoping nature of narrative as it passes through time, occupying at once the vernacular of a child and the wisdom of an adult. The reader is taken through the journey of a girl who has been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, whose faith and sense of identity is fractured by trauma and pluralism.
Nothing speaks more truly of this dualism than a passage from page 61, where she’s discussing the disconnect between the things she sees and the things she expects to be true: “I have my arms around no one,” she writes, “I sing and squint and wring my hands until they’re hot, till they sweat. If we are the organs that populate the body of this cold room then I must be the eyes—the visible internal organ, perpetually suspended between two environments. Delicate spherical things. Tiny things. Dual things absorbing whatever crosses their orbit.”
The eyes are misunderstood, she writes. Underestimated. And in this novel, which is both a coming-of-age novel of a young, queer Jewish girl and simultaneously not a coming-of-age novel at all, the eyes are constantly being tricked—the reader knows not what they see and experience, only that they instinctively trust to follow Burghauser’s words and richly-layered narratives to a deeper place, where intersectionality and fracture can coexist simultaneously. The writing is heady and sexual, deep and connective, even as it seeks to tear through the seams of identity.
I drive and concentrate on landmarks approaching in the windshield. A tree, a light post, a sign. They come closer and closer. When each object is upon me I realize I had been mistaken in one way or another about its nature or shape. That it looked different from far away, The sign, for instance has a ding in the middle making the metal pucker. But in the time it takes to have a thought about the ding, the signpost has dashed by and out of sight, invisible even in the rearview mirror.
By Sarah B. Burghauser
Kol Isha Press
Paperback, 9781518845390, 299 pp.