From a lead writer of the original In Treatment TV series comes "an accomplished, acutely observed novel" (Publishers Weekly).
Eden is not the paradise it appears to be. It is a stifling rural Israeli community in which upscale urban escapees Alona and Mark try to salvage their relationship under the resentful scrutiny of Roni, Mark's adolescent daughter, who feels empowered by her sexual adventures with older men. The neighbors, Dafna and Eli, are in crisis, too, their marriage rent by the torment of infertility. Set against a backdrop of Middle East fears, family entanglements, disappearing countryside, and disappointed expectations, Yael Hedaya's Eden brilliantly renders the strains of unrest in what, on the surface, seems an idyllic place.
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Yael Hedaya is the head writer for In Treatment, the acclaimed Israeli TV series adapted for HBO. The author of Housebroken and Accidents, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in 2006, Hedaya teaches creative writing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
So what is the moment? What does it look like? What shape does it take and when does it occur, that instant which is not a moment and yet is everything? And why does it slip away from her time after time after time?
Because to talk about the moment of conception sounds trite, too small for the occasion and utterly imprecise. And to speak of the encounter between sperm and egg sounds silly, like the press releases she formulates every day (a historic meeting, a once-in-a-lifetime summit) and also untrue. The lab technicians have seen Eli's millions of sperm swimming obediently, though perhaps unenthusiastically, toward her eggs as they sit in little petri dishes like parked cars, waiting for someone to break into them, start their engines, and drive them away. The simple fact is that nothing has happened.
Even the disappointment no longer mattered very much, and not because she had grown used to it. "It's disappointing all over again, every time," the nurse said when she gave Dafna the results over the phone and heard her slow, restrained okay, more of an exhalation than an utterance, because her heart never said it was okay, not once, but her lungs mechanically filled with air to push down the sobs. The nurse had it wrong. You didn't feel disappointed all over again, every time. The disappointment settled like another story on a vast construction project with an unknown completion date, a building with scaffolding made out of hopes, now removed, and from month to month it looked more like a tower block, a concrete monster with closed-in balconies. Sometimes the nurse said, "It'll be okay, Dafna; it will work for you in the end, too," and the for you stung more than the disappointment, more than the word end; and besides, what would work? What was it that would work in the end? She no longer knew whether this thing, which was not working, would fix everything that was broken and start her life again. But she didn't care. She just wanted it to work.
She was standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil so she could mix the sunrise potion concocted for her by the Chinese doctor, in whom she no longer believed but did not yet doubt enough to strike him off her list of alternative practitioners whom she'd visited in recent years: the ones who said her womb was too cold and the ones who compared it to a burning-hot oven, the ones who named her spleen as the source of the trouble and the ones who blamed her kidneys, the ones who said everything was fine, just fine, and likened her ovaries to nuts or tubers and her fallopian tubes to lilies. Perhaps she felt a little sorry for the Chinese medicine guy, because there was something pathetic and dated about his office, because he had not asked her to listen or visualize or believe, instructing her only to stick out her tongue, and she had felt that she was sticking her tongue out at everyone, at the healers and the Chinese doctors and the alternative practitioners, all of them, and at Eli waiting downstairs in a café, sipping a double espresso that had no ill effect on his excellent sperm count, much like the five cigarettes he smoked every day, no doubt poring over some legal file or reprimanding an intern over his cell phone, waiting for her to finish her appointment with the guru du jour—and yet for six months she'd been drinking the potion every morning, and still: nothing.
Now she thought that she would like to implant a tiny video camera in her body, to roam the expanses, spy into corners, slide down curves, and attach itself to the sticky walls of her womb—which quite possibly were not sticky enough, and maybe that was the problem: embryos tumbled off them like mountain climbers plunging to their deaths from a slippery rock wall. A camera would catch everything, projecting the images onto a screen and she would watch: a video clip of her body. She would fast-forward and rewind it, freeze it, examine every frame, every angle, especially that one instant when it all came to a head, the moment that could not be defined, the moment that had been driving Dafna out of her mind for seven years.
Because the idea of a single moment when a pregnancy takes hold is false. There might have been dozens of pregnancies that had taken hold, maybe even hundreds. When she was young she hadn't been careful (her friends called her irresponsible, and the guys she slept with said she was playing with fire, but they still came inside her, and she had only started using contraceptives when she got married, a fact she now found ridiculously insulting), and she realized that what had seemed at the time like tempting fate was in fact prophetic intuition, and perhaps, she thought, as she poured water into the Duralex glass—chosen as her lucky glass, refusing to replace it even after it had disappointed during the last in vitro fertilization—perhaps hundreds of pregnancies had taken hold, but something (what could it be?) had made them change their minds, spurred them to press their ejection buttons and flee. These treacherous cells preferred to grow parachutes over placentas; they quarreled when they divided or disliked the lodgings they found: it was too cold or too hot; she knew all the permutations. She was all too familiar with the mechanics and the details of the hormonal environment, and she knew the statistics for women her age. Still, that moment remained mysterious and elusive and critical—a celestial instant; that was how she thought of it at first, though lately it seemed all too earthly, subterranean and dark—a moment from another world and, in some clear and wounding way, not of her world.
The mixture of ground leaves and roots and whatever else was in the glass swirled around, painting the water a nauseating yet promising greenish earth-toned hue. She looked through the window at the backyard, still obscured in darkness, and she could picture its borders lined with jasmine, hibiscus, and honeysuckle bushes—and oleander. "If we have a child we'll have to pull it up, it's poisonous," Eli had said, not long ago, and his if, which used to be when, scared her more than the thought that their child would swallow a leaf or a flower. She gazed at the lemon cypresses, black and hulking like dozing beasts, and at the lawn, which glistened with moisture in the halogen white that filtered out through the kitchen window. Daylight would soon break and turn the square of darkness into their garden: a phosphorescent green lake of lawn touching a patio tiled with flagstone, adorned with a complete set of oak garden furniture, 9,530 shekels—odd that she remembered this price, of all the fortunes they had spent on the house—and the fancy grill, and of course the rockery, Eli's pride and joy, built from pebbles, centered around a small pool lit with bluish underwater spotlights. The water made a trickle that sounded like a recording, and goldfish swam indifferently in the pool, playing their parts as ornamental fish. When the mid-October sun rose she would see the neatly pruned bushes, and when the last patches of darkness unraveled she would think what she thought every morning when she looked out: in all the world there was no uglier beauty.
Hunched over with her arms resting on the marble countertop—wearing a nightshirt that once, before a hundred washes, dozens of injections in her rear end and her stomach, several intrauterine inseminations, four IVFs, and God knows how many glasses of Chinese silt and needles, used to have a bunny print—she thought she looked old, like her mother, on whose land the house she and Eli lived in had been built (the old house was about to collapse anyway, Eli had said, when she suggested they renovate it instead of tearing it down). The plain, modest house had been destroyed with chilling simplicity, and even the contractor, who was no stranger to tearing down homes, had complimented the structure for seeming to surrender willingly, as though the bulldozer's touch was merely a tickle that sent it crumpling to the ground and rolling around with laughter, churning up clouds of dust. The contractor, a Gulliver with a frizzy red mane of hair, with whom they later fought and were embroiled in a court case, reminded Dafna of her father, a large man who had bequeathed her his physique. "The burning bush," Eli had affectionately nicknamed the contractor before he started referring to him as "that shit." The contractor had a habit of nervously chewing his lower lip, just like she remembered her father doing when he was tense or thoughtful—her father who had wanted to live in the countryside.
A few weeks after her parents left their home in Petach Tikva and moved to the moshav with their three children—eight-year-old Irit, five-year-old Dafna, and Gadi, a two-month-old baby—her father had suffered cardiac arrest and died in his sleep.
Dafna remembered waking up that Saturday morning to the sound of her mother sobbing. She was dashing around the house wearing a slip, which she had never done before and which amused Dafna and her sister, whom their mother quickly sent next door to the neighbor, the widow Sonia Baruch, along with baby Gadi and a bottle of milk. Only after breakfast, when their mother came in, her eyes red and puffy, and whispered with Sonia in the hallway, and they heard the two women sniveling, and Sonia came back into the kitchen and told them they would have to stay until evening, and outside in the yard people started to gather—only then did they realize something terrible had happened.
Eli, like her father, had also wanted to move to the country. He would pace their penthouse apartment in north Tel Aviv and complain that he couldn't breathe, he was suffocating, he was spending too many hours at the office, in offices in general, in court, and he had to get out and work the land, at least on weekends. "Yes," he said, "you can laugh all you want, but I have an urge to work on the land." The person who ended up actually taking care of their ...
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