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Taking Care Of Cleo

[From a Chicago Tribune Review] Broder's Taking Care of Cleo is a cleverly disarming mix of psychological realism, romance and comedy... Broder combines a storyteller's delight in complicated predicaments with a painter's eye for landscape and body language, and a poet's sense of place... The setting he so lushly evokes is Charlevoix, Mich., a small Lake Michigan resort town. It's 1928, the height of Prohibition, and Charlevoix is the site of a turf war between bootleggers, a dangerous situation that has barely registered with the hard-working Bearwalds, the town's only year-round Jewish residents.

Henry, a native, runs the town's dry-goods store with his sexy and dissatisfied Detroit-born and raised wife, Arabella. Of modest means, they depend on Rebecca, their younger daughter, to take care of her autistic sister, Cleo. Only Rebecca can communicate with wordless, passionate, obstinate Cleo, and the expectation is that she will always look after her strange and disconcerting sister. But Rebecca, Broder's thoughtful narrator, wants desperately to go to college, and Cleo, strong and beautiful, is not nearly as helpless as her family assumes.

Broder renders the emotional turmoil experienced by each of the Bearwalds with insight as their lives implode (due to Cleo’s involvement in bootlegging). His portrait of Cleo, the source of the novel's radiance, is particularly arresting. As Cleo proves that she can live her own life, Rebecca realizes that her sense of self is based entirely on taking care of Cleo. Now that Cleo doesn't need her anymore, who will Rebecca become? Ultimately Broder's sparkling, suspenseful and compassionate comedy of errors deftly reveals the complex symbiotic relationship between caregivers and the cared for, categories that are not always as clearly delineated as we might think.