Hannah Lehmann is one of six children in a wealthy. New York, Orthodox Jewish family headed by a somewhat caustic, undemonstrative mother and a father whose concern is business. Hannah is obsessed with her mother, who never loved her enough, but whom Hannah cannot leave, forgive, or stop thinking about. Years, lovers, and psychiatrists do not help her. "My mother is the source of my unease in the world," Hannah says, "and thus the only person who can make me feel at home in the world." Though it is all her mother's fault, Hannah feels she is nothing without her.
"Somewhere in this story," writes Daphne Merkin at the beginning of her novel Enchantment, "is a tragedy, but it is very hard to see." Too hard; for a novelist who has put her character's mind—or perhaps her own—under a microscope, the tragedy is buried so deep that the rest of us have to wonder if it's really there at all.
Merkin has taken her title from Plato—"Everything that deceives may be said to enchant"—but it is Aristotle she should be rereading. "A tragedy is impossible without action," he wrote, and the essential plot has three essential elements to it: a reversal of circumstances, a change from ignorance to knowledge, and suffering.
Enchantment has only suffering—a long, articulate whine. If it's clear that life is genuinely painful...