Elizabeth Poliner is the author of As Close to Us as Breathing, a novel (winner of the 2017 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in Fiction and an Amazon Best Book of 2016); Mutual Life & Casualty, a novel-in-stories; What You Know in Your Hands, a poetry collection; and Sudden Fog, a poetry chapbook. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared widely in literary journals including the Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Colorado Review. She is a recipient of seven individual artist grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, fiction fellowships to the Wesleyan and Sewanee writers’ conferences, and artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She teaches creative writing in the MFA and undergraduate programs at Hollins University where she is an associate professor and current director of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins.
From Publishers Weekly
Home is a battleground where lives are lived on autopilot in Poliner’s auspicious debut collection of interwoven stories set primarily in 1970s suburban Connecticut. Sisters Hannah and Carolyn Kahn quietly inhabit a fragile home and suffer their parents’ loveless marriage, an unhappy union that poisons their adolescence and haunts them as adults. Their beautiful mother, Naomi, is happiest when she is “absorbed” in volunteer work or an affair, seeking any distraction from her critical, demanding husband, Daniel, an overworked insurance executive who doles out affection via his checkbook. Hannah and Carolyn cling to their mother, reveling in their role as recipients of her confessions—she is desperate for divorce, but too frightened to leave: “If I left… divorced—what would I do?” As adults, the sisters find themselves paralyzed by their family history. Instead of pursuing a promising musical career, Hannah becomes a piano teacher trapped in a safe marriage, afraid to bear children. Carolyn, a successful consultant, escapes to Miami to divorce herself from her family and the “townyness” of Connecticut, but ultimately returns, realizing that she is a “bud waiting to bloom.” Fully realized, sympathetic characters, frank exploration of women’s self-assigned roles and tight writing make this a forthright, satisfying first effort.
“Vivid, complex, and beautifully written, Elizabeth Poliner’s novel, As Close to Us as Breathing, brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. This moving story of the way one unforgettable family struggles with love and loss shows an uncommon depth of human understanding. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.” ―Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World
“What a lovely, lovely book.” ―Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge
“Poliner depicts each character with sensitivity and insight…Beautifully written, stringently unsentimental, and yet tender in its empathy for the perennial human conflict between service and self.”―Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Poliner’s novel is an exquisitely written investigation of grief and atonement, and an elegy for a Jewish family bound together by tradition and tribe.”―Publishers Weekly
“Beautiful…. A nuanced, intricate family drama that explores their tight culture at a turning point…. [It’s] the kind of novel you sink into blissfully. It casts a spell…. [Poliner’s] characters seem so real, so multi-dimensional, so sympathetic even when they mess up that you have to shake yourself back to the present each time you put down the book…. As Close to Us As Breathing is a marvel of artful storytelling.”―NPR.org
“Resonant, sensitively observed…Poliner has a keen eye for the awkwardness and sudden leaping insights of adolescents on the brink of adulthood….Poliner also deserves kudos for the warm, particularized light in which she dresses her many characters. As Close to Us as Breathing is a big-hearted roundelay of a novel that, among other things, performs the invaluable service of recovering a lost world.”―New York Times Book Review
“If summer, for you, recalls days spent by the seashore, Poliner’s saga of three Jewish sisters and the beachfront cottage they share with their families–until life-altering tragedy strikes–will enthrall you.”
―O, the Oprah Magazine
“An instant classic…. Poliner handles the texture of Jewish family life with brilliance, authenticity, and a touch of wistfulness.”
―Jewish Book Council
“Superb…As Close to Us as Breathing is a beautiful, complex, character-driven novel. In the author’s capable hands, every one of Poliner’s characters feels real. And, just as in reality, some of them succumb to life’s challenging circumstances. And, just as in reality, some of them succumb to life’s challenging circumstances. And some of them ultimately soar.”