There’s a lot going on in The Angel of Losses, Somerton native Stephanie Feldman’s first novel. There are mysteries within mysteries, stories within stories, history, mythology and discovery.
“It’s also a family story,” Feldman said during a July 16 interview. The book’s main character, Marjorie, was estranged from her sister, who had converted to Orthodox Judaism, and learns to come to terms with their relationship.
Then, there are the mysterious White Rebbe and the Angel of Losses. It is the title character, said Feldman, who “is the figure who presides over the whole story.”
These two are the characters in Jewish fables whom Marjorie studies as she tries to unlock the mystery of her beloved Grandpa, who was not the man she always had believed he was. The novel begins first with one of her grandfather’s stories and then with the discovery of one of his notebooks. Her ideas about him — and his stories — begin to change. As she tries to figure out her Grandpa’s enigmatic life, she finds other mysteries to solve.
By The Angel’s end, the author promised with a smile, “All will be revealed.”
Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, is releasing the book on July 29, and it will be available for online orders and will be a featured selection from August through November at Barnes & Noble stores.
That’s a pretty good score for a new author.
It wasn’t easy, she said. Feldman and her agent worked on revisions before facing the challenge of shopping the book to publishing houses.
“You have to find someone who connects with the material,” she said. “No editor buys a book unless they’re in love with it. They’re taking on a risk.”
Still, that might have been easier than what happened next — being edited.
She was told to cut 10,000 words from The Angel.
Every comment from an editor “was a problem that needed to be fixed,” she said. “It was painful, but it was for the best.”
Feldman was brought up in Somerton — Helene Place, off Tomlinson. She attended Loesche Elementary School on Bustleton Avenue and Masterman High School in Center City. She attended Barnard College in New York. She met her husband, Jonathan Treitel, in the city, where the two lived before buying a home in Fort Washington, Montgomery County, about a year ago. The couple has a daughter, Ramona.
Sometimes, her home, in a quiet tree-filled neighborhood, was just the right place to write, Feldman said. Sometimes, the best spot was a coffee shop, where the ambient noise “forces a focus.” Intake has a value, too. “Caffeine gets me through … and chocolate … perfect for a writer,” she said.
Feldman, who “likes the blurry line between history and legend,” said her book was inspired by old gothic novels. She did a lot of research on Jewish ideas about angels. Those notions are different in Jewish societies all over the world, she said. “That’s great for a writer,” she said, because she gets to pick what she wants.
“I read about Jewish folklore … and I pulled references from a number of stories,” she said. “Part of the mystery is figuring out what these fables mean.”
Music played an important part in writing the book, Feldman said. She said she listened to a lot of pop, “especially something with a good beat.” Genre changed, she said, as she was writing the concluding chapters.
“I listened to a lot of rap while finishing up the book,” she said. “That might surprise people, given the book’s seriousness and tone.”
Feldman has two other completed books “sitting in a drawer,” and that’s where they’re going to stay, she said. She is working on something new, but feels hesitant to talk about the book other than, “It brings magic and history together.”
For now, Feldman is promoting The Angel of Losses with readings and book signings, one of which will be in the Northeast. She’ll be at the Holocaust Awareness Museum, 10100 Jamison Ave., Room 218, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. Call 215-464-4701 for information. ••
For more information about The Angel of Losses and Stephanie Feldman, visit stephaniefeldman.com/thebook
“I imagine the events of those months like a Chagall, like the picture Holly was painting while her baby slept inside her, the men floating amid stars on a deep-blue vortex. Grandpa appears in the distance after two days of wandering, a little old man beneath seagulls and billboards. I spend nights in the library, searching for a book that will explain ghosts to me. Holly and Nathan watch each other across a folding table piled with mismatched plates of food, in a cramped dormitory kitchen suspended above Manhattan. The bay gains on Coney Island, Hebrew and Yiddish voices circle my sister, obscure but comforting, a quilt of unreadable symbols.”
The Angel of Losses