|Benevolence||A Good Man||Semi Detached||The Other Side||Onlyville||Home Again|
To purchase any of these titles, visit an online or local bookstore. A Good Man and Benevolence are also available as eBooks from your favorite e-retailer.
Cynthia Holz’s first novel with Knopf Canada is a spellbinding story that offers an intimate look at family, friendship and altruism, and unrolls a cast of characters you can’t help but root for even as you question some of the things they do.
Dr. Ben Wasserman, an organ transplant psychiatrist, is having trouble assessing a would-be kidney donor who may turn out to be a bona fide altruist. But as his interest in the man grows, so do his professional and emotional conflicts. At the same time, Ben’s psychologist wife, Renata Moon, is struggling to treat a phobic client whose husband died in a train crash. When the young woman reveals that she is pregnant, Renata’s disappointment in her own childless marriage is triggered anew.
Ben and Renata work hard all day, then go home to squabble over the nightly take-out. It doesn’t help to ease the rising tension in their marriage that Ben’s widowed mother, Molly, has made her disapproval of her yet-to-be-pregnant daughter-in-law well-known. Nor does it help when Molly takes in a boarder, a man from her past whose secrets threaten to complicate the family dynamics even more.
Benevolence is intelligent, amusing and deeply humane, a novel that asks unsettling questions, makes surprising connections and allows room for some unexpected, magical solutions.
Advance Praise for Benevolence
"Benevolence combines a deeply suspenseful plot with characters so vivid that I felt I might meet them at any moment on their way to a streetcar or a bar. Cynthia Holz writes beautifully about the longings and accommodations of middle age, work and trauma, poetry and gardens, and the possibility of altruism. The result is a wise and wonderful novel."
-Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street
"Cynthia Holz has a gift for ordinary trauma. In Benevolence, patients and equally frail physicians struggle to recover from life's pain. More alike than they know, braver than they think, Holz's broken people tap into the mysterious interconnectedness that roots us under the surface."
-Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault
“With Renata, Ben and Molly, Holz aims to reproduce the psychological experience — the inner reality — of being alive in the world. Into the difficult, quotidian and frequent horror of human existence, she weaves art, fleeting joys, tenacious hope (in the form of children), serendipitous coincidence and tangible magic. Holz follows in the footsteps of Carol Shields. …[T]he most distinct characteristic of a work of fiction will always be the quality of the author’s voice — and no one can say it like she can.” (The National Post, April 2011. Read the full review here.)
“Benevolence is the fifth novel from Holz, a … master at mining the terrain of coupledom — its sorrows as well as its absurdities, which she delves into with sensitivity and humour. Her strengths are apparent here in peripheral characters such as Molly, who … flowers into an individual both courageous and admirable, if not precisely lovable. (Besides which, we may have in Molly the only fictional portrayal of a 73-year-old woman who is, stop the presses, permitted a sexual appetite.) [T]his is … [a] moving… [and] sympathetic exploration of just how far we need, and need to be willing, to go to quell our longing — for creativity, for love, for children, for connection.” (The Globe and Mail, May 2011)
“…[T]his is a novel about altruism, motives, secrets. It has all the hallmarks of being by a writer who carries within herself the benefits of wisdom and reflection that come with age. It is a piece of writing that is carefully, thoughtfully constructed, that … reminds me of Carol Shields’s Unless, Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault, Bonnie Burnard’s Suddenly, Joan Barfoot’s Exit Lines, all novels … intent upon exploring aspects of modern life, love, aging, that otherwise might not be noticed… What is striking is the even-handedness with which Holz treats her characters, and her steadfast refusal to find fault with them or to nudge the reader toward sympathy with one or another of these … individuals. There are no heroes; nor, in the end, are there heroics… There are … flashes of beauty and illumination, and when they happen they are … subtle, and unexpected, in a field of garlic… Holz seems to be demanding of her readers a willingness to suspend disbelief, … to go on a somewhat unconventional journey with her characters, just to see if, in that process, we are pulled toward an altered understanding of the mundane and predictable.” (Literary Review of Canada, May 2011)
“Holz has an uncanny ability to inhabit the minds of her protagonists, providing them with thoughts that evoke their marital alienation; it is unsettling to see how two people who clearly love one another can wrongly feel that they are able to read their partner’s mind. And it’s a testament to her abilities as an author to make the reader want to shout out, at several points, ’Just talk to her! Just talk to him! Say what’s on your minds! If only!’ …[A]ll is resolved in the end [but] Holz doesn’t do the easy thing and give Renata and Ben a baby to take their—and our—cares away. She weaves together the separate strands of Ben and Renata’s lives in a masterful and structurally satisfying way, and we’re left as they are: hoping that transformation endures.” (The Medical Post, March 2011)
“This new novel by Cynthia Holz offers that beautiful combination of tension and tenderness… Holz is deeply skilled at conveying her characters’ emotional chaos. This isn’t a thriller by any means, but she knows how to make a reader feel very anxious… There are moments when you feel like shouting, ’Don’t go there,’ as you might in a horror movie… But in the end, Holz says more about human growth and connection than she does about weakness.” (NOW Magazine, March 2011)
“…I will keep and reread this book simply for the wisdom contained within its pages. In the end, Holz’s characters find goodness in themselves in the most unexpected ways. They stop running from their fears and land in the now, reminded of nature’s interconnectedness and life’s capacity for new beginnings. In these moments, they renew their ability to love, and leave us with hope for their future. Benevolence will surprise you — if you take the time to let it do so.” (backofthebook.ca, March 2011. Read the full review here.)
“Holz masterfully integrates the external and inward lives of her characters by showing us what they say and do while revealing their thoughts and adding details of their pasts. In a few spots the prose seems as good as anything by Ann Tyler or Anita Brookner…” (billgladstone.ca, February 2012)
“Totally believable… This novel … would be an ideal vehicle for teaching medical students or residents.” (Canadian Medical Association Journal, March 2012)
“This closely observed novel … raises to consciousness the many ethical issues of altruistic organ donation … [and is] well suited for book and journal clubs, especially those conducted by medical and psychology students and graduates and those that focus on ethical issues. [R]eading this novel [is] a pleasurable and stirring experience.” (Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Australia, January 2014)
A Good Man
When his best friend is murdered, Izzy Schneider is compelled to reconstruct their complex and rivalrous long-standing relationship. In the process, he exhumes a hidden past that tests his faith and forces him to confront his own obsessions.
Both Izzy and his friend Phil Lewis were young men in Nazi-controlled Europe. Izzy escaped, leaving behind his family, who later perished in the Holocaust. But Phil stayed to fight with partisans and become a war hero.
After the war, Izzy ends up working for Phil, who has become a successful shirt manufacturer in Toronto. Many years later, Izzy still suffers guilt because he did not remain to fight and couldn’t save his family. As well, his daughter Eva, tangled in the legacy of Phil’s good life and Izzy’s shame, struggles to understand her father and to make amends for a clandestine love affair that threatens to tear both families apart.
With great compassion and a voice that rings with authority, critically acclaimed novelist Cynthia Holz portrays the lives of two families connected through blood and loyalty, and the terrible secrets that can haunt generations. A superb tale of loss and regret, A Good Man explores the burden of history distorted by the lens of time and tells a potent story of friendship and family and how tragedy can change everything.
“An extended meditation on the definition of heroism and the reverberations of history. Colourful and pitch-perfect… There is a compelling contemplative lilt to Holz’s prose … and the novel garners its heft and eloquence from this consistent thoughtfulness.” (Quill & Quire, March 2003)
“Holz should be congratulated on tackling complex questions in a seemingly effortless manner. It’s an accomplished work, and Izzy … comes across as a memorable man indeed.” (The Vancouver Sun, May 2003)
“Izzy is endearing, exasperating, pushy, opinionated, passive-aggressive and self-absorbed… Holz does a wonderfully thorough job of presenting him to us. A marvelously cathartic sex scene … is the most emotionally complex moment in the novel. (A Good Man) is a steady, detailed and honest portrait … well worth reading for its highly credible version of a particular slice of the real world.” (The Globe and Mail, April 2003)
“Holz … delves into complex issues faced by three generations: survivors of the Nazi era and the Holocaust, their children, and their grandchildren. The novel … is well-crafted, … with loving attention to detail. Narrative and dialogue flow easily, and both minor and major characters come to life. Holz’s book is a worthy addition to the growing literature … on the Holocaust and its ongoing effects. This is not, however, a book only about the Holocaust; it is about love and survival. A Good Man is a story that helps us … to understand our history and ourselves.” (The Hamilton Spectator, April 2003)
“Holz manages … to make the reader cognizant of just how devastating (survival) guilt can be, and how it can ruin the life of somebody like Izzy Schneider.” (The Toronto Star, April 2003)
“A powerful tale of two men, murder, friendship and families. A Good Man is not simply about whether Izzy ever comes to terms with his own past but whether his daughter can come to terms with her own shame about her father. Fresh and dynamic…” (The Calgary Herald, May 2003)
“Written with power and precision, this is Cynthia Holz’s best novel yet. A clear-eyed, passionate examination of heroes, victims, villains, and survivors. An uncensored landscape where the truth shifts, the story changes depending on who’s telling it and the memories, and sometimes the lies, by which we define ourselves are unmasked. A Good Man shines with wisdom and extraordinary insight into the human heart.” (Eliza Clark, author of Bite the Stars)
“Izzy Schneider, I know you forever from this novel. I hear your voice in my dreams, listen to your urgent stories, cringe at your need to be adored, and most of all I love your heartbreaking ordinariness in a world that is anything but.” (Ann Ireland, author of Exile)
From one of Canada’s best storytellers comes a lively and sophisticated love story about a man and a woman who decide to reinvent their long-standing relationship.
When Barbara and Elliot Rifkin agree to lead semi-separate lives, little do they know what emotional and material consequences they are about to reap. Middle-class boomers who have taken early retirement, they divide their home into two apartments, intending to live unencumbered by family and domestic duties. The rest of the clan—grandmother, son and daughter and their respective families—are appalled. Friends raise eyebrows and assume it all has to do with extramarital sex.
But Barabara and Elliot are determined to enjoy their new-found independence. When the costs of that freedom prove to be too high, an unusual series of events converge to bring about an inspired denouement to this captivating story.
Cynthia Holz writes with superb control and at the height of her powers. Poignant, absorbing and very much a tale for our times, Semi-detached is a gem of a novel.
“Spare and buoyantly written, Cynthia Holz’s third novel is about … well, about life. (She) has a powerfully good time teasing her readers, and dangles her characters in their dilemmas mercilessly. Holz paints crankiness, fatigue, ecstasy, anger, jealousy—in fact, the entire gamut of everyday human emotion—with calm, nourishing acceptance…” (The Globe and Mail, August 1999)
“Holz’s prose is fluid … and she strikes an effective balance between compassion and understated humour. It’s Holz’s generosity and tenderness toward her all-too-fallible characters that distinguishes Semi-detached. (It has) thoughtfulness and heart.” (The Toronto Star, August 1999)
“With compassion and sensitivity, a touch of culinary humour sprinkled here and there, Cynthia Holz has written a love story with a twist. Semi-detached is about falling in love with your spouse all over again.” (The Montreal Gazette, September 1999)
“Semi-detached has an urban sensibility. Danger and uncertainty create anxiety and empathy in the reader, drawing her into the story. Cynthia Holz gives us a very 1990s tale of an unhappy family’s search for happiness. The novel is at once a gritty piece of social realism, an adventure story and a moral fable.” (Literary Review of Canada, February 2000)
“…an unconventional take on middle-aged marriage.” (The Guardian, November 2000)
“A humorous and touching novel… Reminiscent of Carol Shields’s Happenstance, … Semi-detached is essential reading… (University of Toronto Bookstore Review, Winter 1999)
“Semi-detached is … the sort of book to curl up with and not put down. Holz delicately and gently dissects marriage, bringing up many of the issues facing people today. No simple answer exists for any individual or couple—and that’s what makes this novel so worth reading.” (The Calgary Herald, September 1999)
“At times touchingly funny, Semi-detached punches all the buttons of a generation of aging baby-boomers for whom the empty nest, so long awaited, can prove a very mixed blessing .” (The Ottawa Citizen, December 1999)
The Other Side
The critics praised Cynthia Holz’s first novel, Onlyville, as “a rich, poetic work of literature,” “funny, moving, highly satisfying,” “luminescent” and “brimming with vivid images.” Tender and slightly wistful, The Other Side is an engaging and rewarding successor.
Holly, an actor and housecleaner, is devastated when her gay roommate, Marc, commits suicide. But even before the body is cold, Marc’s ghost takes up residence in their kitchen.
What follows is a sensitive and witty exploration of the lives of two lost souls. Even as Holly contends with her married lover and aging father, she is finding out more than she ever wanted to know about Marc. Catapulted into a confrontation with her own personal ghosts, she learns where her power truly lies.
Funny and surprising, The Other Side is a richly layered, haunting tale.
“Holz uses wit and insight to remind us of everyday complexities… This accurate depiction of the very real and never-ending battle between our intellectual and emotional selves is the core of Holz’s book. Cynthia Holz was praised for Onlyville (1994), her novel debut, … for her ability to unveil the emotional textures and themes of our lives. The Other Side does this as well, showcasing Holz’s cunning at drawing us in with comedy and keeping us there with dynamic, fully realized characters who travel down the rocky road toward human connection, happiness and success.” (The Globe and Mail, January 1998)
“The Other Side succeeds on many levels. Holz takes risks… Trust her. This is a seriously comedic novel.” (Quill & Quire, December 1997)
“Holz mixes elements of edginess with some sharp humour. This is a book as much about memory and identity as it about crossing into the next world—either in life or death—and (Holz) spins some achingly poignant prose. Funny … insightful … satisfying.” (Now, January 1998)
The Other Side is part comedic fantasy, … part psychological investigation into grief, memory, spirituality and identity. …subtle and fascinating.” (The Toronto Star, December 1997)
When Anna Berman leaves her boyfriend Sal in 1974 and heads for the family cottage on a small island in the Atlantic, she expects solitude, time to think and to sort out her life. But uninvited guests descend—first Sal, then her teenage niece with a flower-power friend in tow, and finally her father’s runaway girlfriend Helene. Once again Anna is drawn into a tumult of precarious relationships, drowning in the needs and desires of others.
With much wit and wisdom, Cynthia Holz illuminates Anna’s inner struggle as she fights for autonomy and insight. Onlyville is a funny and poignant novel that offers a rich vision of love, loss and discovery.
“…a spare, polished, luminescent novel.” (Quill & Quire, March 1994)
“Spare, beautiful prose typifies the book. This is a novel riveted in the ordinary magic and ambiguities of everyday life. All of the characters in Onlyville are real people subtly fleshed out and the dialogue reads as smoothly as an overheard conversation. Onlyville is the perfect example of what a first novel can be. To anyone contemplating writing a novel about family, modern life and how social and political movements shape destinies: Read and cherish Onlyville. And readers, be grateful for Cynthia Holz, who has the gift.” (The Ottawa Citizen, April 1994)
“If this funny, moving, highly satisfying first novel by Cynthia Holz illustrates anything, it’s that we have no beginning: We simply spiral, a haphazard aggregate of experience, memory, neuroses and genes, part ancestral, part individual, and all of it winding round in diabolical perpetuity like the stripe on a barbershop pole.” (The Globe and Mail, April 1994)
“A funny, moving story of a young American woman struggling for self-determination during the Watergate ‘70s. The wry, tough humor of Anna’s narrative and Holz’s watertight style come shining through. The feel-the-sand, hear-the-surf quality of Holz’s prose makes Onlyville great to read.” (Eye, March 1994)
“Onlyville is a lovely novel about a woman’s search for authenticity and autonomy. In telling Anna’s tale, Holz moves back and forth through layers of time, revealing her family’s past, their mistakes and marriages over three decades. Holz’s writing brims with vivid images. (Her) characters vibrate with ambiguities, their actions posing questions that will have no answer. Ultimately, Onlyville is a compassionate story of a woman’s quest for understanding.” (The Toronto Star, April 1994)
“…a rich, poetic work of literature. Onlyville reads much like a collection of short stories, along the lines of Alice Munro. (It) is a wonderfully written, powerful piece of Canadian literature.” (The Kingston Whig-Standard, April 1994)
“Holz displays a remarkable sense of control in her writing; the prose is sparse and economical, yet deftly delivers images of surprising richness and clarity. Onlyville is a work of freshness and vitality, vibrant, yet with the soft, comforting warmth of the familiar.” (Id Magazine, October 1994)
“Onlyville is a well-written, touching story that is bound to strike a chord.” (The Calgary Herald, September 1994)
“Funny and tragic, … Onlyville is a fine piece of work. Holz’s first story collection, Home Again, was called ‘fresh’ and ‘subtle’: her first novel is that and more. (Books in Canada, Summer 1994)
Onlyville is written with a feminist sensibility, but it is never doctrinaire; it is often extremely moving—and extremely funny. (It) is that rare combination—a book that is both gorgeously written and compulsively readable, with characters you feel you come to know.” (John Metcalf, author, critic and editor, 1994)
The first publication of a new author’s work is always cause for celebration. We become part of the discovery of an exciting talent and bear witness to an exceptional voice heard for the first time.
Home Again is a powerful debut by a writer destined to be read again and again. In this new collection of ten stories, Cynthia Holz presents a rich vision of relationships among family, friends and strangers, of passion and marriage, loss and rediscovery. At their heart these are stories about love, the way it is nurtured and protected as well as stifled. With grace and great sympathy, Cynthia Holz offers each of us a mirror, making us a part of the characters in this luminous collection, mysteriously making their loves as well as their losses a part of our daily lives.
“So good that you can’t get enough. Home Again is a stunning first collection of 10 short stories. ” (The Kingston Whig-Standard, June 1989)
“Cynthia Holz has a remarkable assurance in her first collection of short stories. Humorous and heartbreaking by turns, her visions of love in the modern world are perfectly focused and immensely readable. The 10 stories are a delight … familiar as friends but never predictable.” (The Ottawa Citizen, July 1989)
“Holz can be magical.” (Books in Canada, June 1989)
“Haunting … subtle and wise… Cynthia Holz is an author worth watching.” (The Globe and Mail, April 1989)
“This collection of 10 short stories presents crisp, poignant slices of life in New York and Holz’s adopted Toronto peopled with characters who makes the pages turn weightlessly.” (Images, June 1989)
“To illuminate the lives of ‘ordinary’ people is no small task, and Holz has done it with considerable skill.” (The Montreal Gazette, June 1989)
“Home Again is an arresting new collection of short fiction. Cynthia Holz challenges some basic assumptions about old age, blood relationships and motherhood. Here’s a writer who understands a whole bunch of things.” (Peter Gzowski on CBC Radio’s Morningside, April 1989)