Did I pick up this book for an education about female sexuality, Jewish tradition, and psychotherapy? No, I did not; but to my surprise, I was soon absorbing new information wrapped seamlessly into an engrossing story. The main character, Rachel Levine, is a graduate student in clinical psychotherapy who has come out to her parents as bisexual. Her father and her brother Zeke are supportive, but her mother makes her promise not to tell her grandfather, with whom Rachel will live during her studies. The relationship between Rachel and her Zayde, or grandfather, was full of love in spite of their different views of feminism. Zayde is offended his synagogue has hired a female rabbi who wants to include non-Jewish spouses in their children’s bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. As they stand together on the Sabbath, Zayde whispers to Rachel, “Know before whom you stand.”
This debut novel by psychologist and rabbinical student Jodi S. Rosenfeld is the first one I’ve read that shows the point of view of a student psychotherapist. As she studies her craft, Rachel meets and falls in love with Liz, a feminist young woman who works for inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in religious life. The tension between Rachel and Zayde, from whom she has promised to keep her love secret, reminded me of real families whose children hide their true identities or are divided by opposing political views.
We get to sit in the room with Rachel and her mentor as she learns to counsel college students and grows close to Charlie, a student struggling with coming out as gay. We watch as Rachel learns from her mistakes and seeks her own therapist. Reading about the dual process of healing, for both her and Charlie, made me want them both to succeed. Rachel has important lessons to learn about control and consequences.
I learned more than I expected about bisexuality—being attracted to both men and women—and how difficult it can be for parents and friends to understand and accept. I learned about American Jews and the tension between keeping their religion and practices alive while evolving to include more diversity in their congregations. Growth and change can be painful, and this author makes it clear and relatable. Letting go of our lifelong beliefs and prejudices requires us to turn away from expectations of what we want for our children and communities. In Closer to Fine, Rosenfeld weaves a complicated story that had me rooting for Rachel and cheering her new understanding and maturity.
The title comes from a line in a song by the Indigo Girls, the lesbian folk rock duo: “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” Despite attempts by people she loves to decide her life’s path for her, Rachel must define and find “fine” for herself.