15 reviews

The Two-Family House: A Novel
by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Published: 2016-03-08
Hardcover : 304 pages
43 members reading this now
58 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 15 of 15 members

"An emotional but dreamy novel that...will transport you far, far away from your next dreary Monday morning. You may do a lot of sobbing, but don't worry, you'll be smiling by the end." ?Bustle, "12 Spring Break Reads To Help You Escape Normal Life"

**Buzzfeed, "14 Of The Most Buzzed-About ...

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"An emotional but dreamy novel that...will transport you far, far away from your next dreary Monday morning. You may do a lot of sobbing, but don't worry, you'll be smiling by the end." ?Bustle, "12 Spring Break Reads To Help You Escape Normal Life"

**Buzzfeed, "14 Of The Most Buzzed-About Books"

**Popsugar, "6 Books You Should Read"

"A novel you won't be able to put down." ?Diane Chamberlain, New York Times bestselling author

Brooklyn, 1947: In the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born, minutes apart. The mothers are sisters by marriage: dutiful, quiet Rose, who wants nothing more than to please her difficult husband; and warm, generous Helen, the exhausted mother of four rambunctious boys who seem to need her less and less each day. Raising their families side by side, supporting one another, Rose and Helen share an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic winter night.

When the storm passes, life seems to return to normal; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and the once deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost, but not quite, wins. Moving and evocative, Lynda Cohen Loigman's debut novel The Two-Family House is a heart-wrenching, gripping multigenerational story, woven around the deepest of secrets.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



She walked down the stairs of the old two-family house in the dark, careful not to slip. The steps were steep and uneven, hidden almost entirely beneath the snow. It had been falling rapidly for hours and there had been too much excitement going on inside the house for anyone to think about shoveling steps for a departing midwife. Perhaps if the fathers of the two babies born had been present, they would have thought to shovel. But the storm had prevented their return, and neither had been home.

She breathed in the cold night air, happy to be outside at last, away from the heat and closeness of the birthing room. How grateful she was for the sudden burst of wind that slammed the door shut behind her, shaking her out of her exhaustion and signaling the finality of the evening. She loved her work and cherished the intimacy of it. But it was not a plea sure outing.

Before today she thought she had seen every permutation of circumstance: the girls who cried out for their own mothers even as they became mothers themselves; the older women who marked themselves as cursed, suddenly bursting with joy over a healthy child come to them at last. She thought she had heard every kind of sound a person could make, witnessed every expression the human face could conjure up out of pain, joy or grief. That was what she thought before this evening.

This night was different. Never before had she seen such longing, pain and relief braided together more tightly. Two mothers, two babies, born only minutes apart. She had witnessed to night what pure woman strength could accomplish, how the mind could control the body out of absolute desperation. She had watched, and she had ignored. She had taken charge, yet she was absent. She let them believe that her confusion was real, that she was tired. But she was never confused. She was not too tired to comprehend their hopes. The fragile magic of that night had not been lost on her.

She breathed in the air again, crisp and cold, clearing her head. It had been a good night, two healthy babies born to healthy, capable mothers. She couldn’t ask for more. What happened now was out of her hands. Wholly and completely she put it out of her mind, said her goodbyes to the house on the steps and made her way home to go to sleep. There would be more babies tomorrow, she knew, and the constancy of her work would keep her thoughts from this place. She promised herself never to think of it again.

Chapter 1


(May 1947)

The domestic, feminine scene unfolding before Mort did nothing to improve his spirits. Upstairs, in his brother’s apartment, substantial preparations were being made. Not just the brushing of hair and the tying of sashes. Serious words were being spoken from man to man, from father to son. Mort pushed away his breakfast plate and frowned.

Thirty minutes before they were supposed to leave, there was a thudding of footsteps down the stairs and a quick knock on the door.

“Got to go! See you there!” Abe’s voice rang with excitement. Mort had assumed they would all walk over to the synagogue together.

“What do they need to get there so early for?” he grumbled at his wife. Knowing better than to defend her brother-in-law, Rose shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know,” she answered.

Mort had been dreading this day, the day of his nephew’s bar mitzvah, for months. In the weeks leading up to it, the increased noise and activity of his brother’s family overhead agitated him. He found himself imagining different scenarios to go with every thud and thump he heard. Was Abe’s wife, Helen, testing out a new cake recipe? Was his nephew Harry trying on his new suit? What were the other boys laughing about? Mort tortured himself in this manner for several weeks. He was a sharp, thin man, and in the month before the bar mitzvah he had lost at least ten pounds. His increasingly angular appearance alarmed his wife, but everyone else was too busy to notice.

Rose had been up earlier than usual that morning to make sure the girls were ready on time. Hair ribbons were neatened and his three daughters, clad in matching yellow dresses, were lined up in front of him after breakfast. “They’re like a row of spring daffodils,” Rose entreated.

“Don’t you think so?” Mort looked up, but he was an unappreciative audience. Judith was almost twelve and seemed too old for matching dresses. She was fidgeting in the line, anxious to get back to the book she had been forced to leave on the kitchen table. Every week, Mort insisted that Judith present him with her chosen pile of library books for approval. Every week, Judith asked Mort if he wanted to read one of her books too, so they could discuss it. Every week, he declined.

Mimi, the prettiest of the three, was the most comfortable on display. She was only eight, but already she carried herself with a stylish grace that Mort found unfamiliar. Mort thought she looked the most like Rose. Mimi was forever making cards for friends and family members with pencils and crayons that she left all over the house. Last year, she found her father’s card in the kitchen trash pail the morning after his birthday. She ran crying to him with it, waving it in her hand and asking why he had thrown it away. “My birthday is over,” he explained. “I don’t need it anymore.”

Dinah, the baby of the family, had the most trouble keeping quiet during Mort’s inspection. She was only five, and though she had been taught not to ask her father too many questions, she couldn’t seem to help herself. “What’s your favorite color?” she blurted out, eyes wide with anticipation. Mimi, hoping the answer might give her some insight regarding the design of next year’s birthday card, seemed eager for the reply. But the response was of no help.

“I don’t have one,” Mort said.

After Mort nodded his silent endorsement of the girls’ appearance, the family was ready to go. He usually took the lead during outings like these, leaving everyone else struggling to match his quick strides. The girls knew better than to try to walk alongside him. Even Dinah had stopped trying to hold his hand years ago. Instead, they had taken to walking single fi le on family outings, like unhappy ducks in a storybook, with Rose bringing up the rear.

Today, however, Mort was so out of sorts that he lagged behind the rest and stayed at the back of the line. Despite the warm weather, he found himself shivering in his baggy suit. His face grew increasingly gray with each step that he took. Rose walked ahead, slow and uncomfortable in the lead position. The policy of the synagogue was to seat men and women separately, even children. Once they arrived, Rose and the girls headed upstairs to the women’s section, while Mort joined Abe and his nephews on the ground floor. While he was relieved to be unburdened by the flock of women that constantly surrounded him, Mort also felt strangely alone. He had been in the sanctuary countless times, but today he felt out of place and insignificant.

The service continued without incident. It was not a stellar reading by any means, but it was not the worst performance he had heard from a bar mitzvah boy either. He felt a secret burst of delight with each mistake his nephew uttered, but no one else seemed to notice. When Mort looked around the room he saw only smiling people, nodding their heads. They were all on Harry’s side.

The walk home was painful. Mort walked behind Abe’s family, counting the cobblestones, trying to remember important business matters. He felt strongly that he should be using his time more efficiently that day, not wasting it on celebrations. He counted invoices and orders in his head, thinking about how busy he would be on Monday, and made a promise to himself to work on Sunday in order to get a jump on the week’s work ahead. At one point he called out to Abe, offering a reminder of an order that needed to be shipped out in a few days. Abe waved his hand in the air, brushing the reminder aside. Abe would not speak about business today.

Back at the house, Mort said hello to relatives he hadn’t seen for months. He accepted compliments on his daughters, praises for their dresses and smiles, but nothing could improve his mood. He took a glass of wine and sipped it. When Rose came over to him with a plate of food, she reminded him to give Harry the envelope they had brought. After that he sat alone, feeling self-conscious and clumsy as he tried to balance the plate on his lap.

The party went on that way, silent and empty for him, until it was almost time to leave. He was on his second glass of wine when he felt a strong arm around his shoulders. It was Helen’s cousin Shep, a bearded hulk of a man a few years older than Abe. “Morty!” he said, squeezing with his oversized hands. “Good to see you!” Mort tried to pull away, but it was impossible to escape Shep’s grip. “Guess what, Morty? No, you’ll never guess. I got married! Never been better! Meet my wife, Morty, and my son!” The next minute Mort was being dragged to meet Shep’s chubby wife, Alice, and their even chubbier baby boy.

“Nice to meet you,” Mort said.

Alice was quiet, a perfect match for the outgoing Shep. “I tell you, Mort,” he boomed, “being a father is the best thing for a man! Ah, what am I yapping to you for? You know all about it!” He grabbed Mort for one more stifling embrace.

“Nice to see you,” Mort muttered, retreating as quickly as possible. In his haste to escape, Mort turned into the kitchen by mistake. Rose was there with several other women, wrapping up food now that the desserts had been set out. She looked over at him and pointed, motioning through the doorway to Harry, who was standing with one of his brothers.

Mort patted his pocket; the envelope was still there. He might as well get it over with so that he could go home. Over the din of the crowd he heard Shep’s booming voice again. Shep, that idiot, had a new lease on life! He was holding up his son, swooshing him around like a kid with a toy airplane. What Mort noticed next confounded him. Men and women alike turned their heads, this way and that, to catch a glimpse of the baby. For a few seconds at least, the guests were transfixed, their eyes tightly set on the infant in the air. For a moment, maybe more, everyone else was forgotten, even the bar mitzvah boy himself. When Mort looked back at Rose in the kitchen, desire leapt at him for the first time in months. He felt suddenly generous and surprisingly hopeful. He approached his nephew and patted him on the back. “Nice job, Harry,” Mort told him, slipping the envelope into his hand.

With his task completed, Mort gathered his family to leave. At the door he let Helen kiss him on the cheek and shook Abe’s hand for a moment longer than usual. Abe and Helen looked at each other, but when Helen raised her eyebrow, Mort pretended not to notice. He guided Rose through the doorway, and, with daughters in tow, they left. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. We learn early in the story that Abe’s relationship with Mort is a complicated one. Would you try as hard as Abe does to maintain a positive relationship with your sibling if he/she acted the way Mort does? Why is it so easy for Abe to always forgive and forget?

2. Do you consider Mort to be emotionally abusive at the beginning of the novel, or is he just disinterested? Does Mort’s behavior justify Rose’s actions?

3. Do you think either Helen or Rose thought about switching babies before the night they were born? How does living in the two family house affect their decision? Do you think the same choice would have been made if the families lived in separate homes?

4. Does Helen interfere too much in Rose’s daily life once the babies are born? When Helen and Rose have their argument in the coatroom, Rose says that Helen took both babies and left her with none. Is there any truth to this?

5. How do you feel about the way Mort and Rose handle Judith’s college news? Were you surprised that Rose didn’t stand up for Judith? Is Rose’s anxiety the main reason she doesn’t want Judith to live away from home, or are there other reasons?

6. The issue of nature vs. nurture runs throughout the novel. Which prevails in terms of shaping the identities of Natalie and Teddy? What qualities do the children take from their natural parents vs. their adoptive parents?

7. Discuss the ways in which each of the four adult characters cope with their grief after Teddy’s death. Whose reaction do you find the most surprising? For whom do you feel the most sympathy?

8. After Abe’s heart attack, Helen realizes for the first time how deceitful she has been. If Helen had told Abe the truth, do you think he would he have been able to forgive her?

9. Rose and Mort are the characters that change the most throughout the course of the book. Whose transformation do you find to be the most compelling? Is Teddy’s death, Natalie’s influence or Judith’s forgiveness the most important factor in Mort’s metamorphosis?

10. Throughout the book, Judith has the feeling she is missing something. Is it realistic to think she would be able to figure out the secret? Do you think she has an obligation to tell Natalie or Mort once she knows the truth?

11. Rose is obviously bothered by the attention Mort pays to Natalie, but why is Rose so upset when Mort finally becomes close to Judith? Which relationship bothers Rose the most?

12. Do you think Mort gets off too easily at the end of the novel? Would he suffer more if he knew the truth about Natalie and Teddy?

Suggested by Members

Could you have put yourself or family in this position?
How would you have changed the ending?
Did you have a favorite character?
by books4glo (see profile) 07/05/17

We used those at the at the end of the book but we had enough discussion about was going on in the book itself .
by Suehobbs (see profile) 10/21/16

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  "The Two-Family House"by Doris N. (see profile) 09/13/17

Our group had a great discussion and agreed that this book was well worth reading. At times the circumstances seemed a little stretched, but the family dynamics and the character development were real... (read more)

  "The Two Family House"by Linda M. (see profile) 08/27/17

I enjoyed the book very much. The characters each had differing personalities. It was exciting watching Natalie pull Mort out of his shell. He had been so reluctant to talk with people. Our book group... (read more)

by Cindy H. (see profile) 09/27/19

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by Heather S. (see profile) 04/16/18

The author did not develop the characters.

by Peggy E. (see profile) 03/23/18

by Lynda W. (see profile) 08/19/17

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