2016: 29. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

“We’d been in American just three months when the horse ran over me.”

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, Susan Jane Gilman

A recommendation from my fabulous friend Shana, I read this in one sitting, on an airplane trip with my three monkeys clamoring around.  And I not only was able to pay attention, but tore through it, and thus I totally recommend it for a fun, yet surprisingly meaty, read.  

It’s the story of Lillian Dunkle, who is born Malka Treynovksky, an immigrant child from Russia. She loses her family young, and has to struggle through life, but ends up the Ice Cream Queen - imagine if Leona Helmsley owened Carvell.  She has had a wildly successful life, but as the novel opens finds herself in serious legal trouble in her old age.  The book, is thus her, telling us her life story to justify where she’s ended up today.  From the details of tenement life to what it’s like to be an old rich lady in tabloid trouble, Lillian’s life runs the gamut, and Gilman captures it all, while still keeping Lillian’s (frankly, miserable and bitchy) voice front and center.  To be honest, when I first read it, I was a bit offput by Lillian, who has some very unlikable qualities, but once I realized that the whole point is to have a tough woman protagonist who can be abrasive - and to help us understand how she got like that, I was in the bag for this book. (I know, it’s a pretty obvious point, but forgive me - I have three small kids, and am not as bright as I used to be).  The way we both see Lillian’s flaws and understand how she got them is a privilege pop culture usually only gives to middle aged white men (Don Draper, Walter White, etc.).  To allow a little old Jewish lady the same latitude, and tell an interesting story is pretty great.  Wish AMC or FX could make a tv show like this for us - it could be both funny, and historically interesting, and a character study.  TV execs, are you listening?


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017