Beyond Vassar

About Books

By Amy Arner Sgarro ’83

The Four Temperaments
By Yona Zeldis McDonough ’79
Doubleday, 2002

The enduring bonds of marriage, the unpredictable consequences of extra- marital affairs, and the complex relationships between parents and children are issues at the core of The Four Temperaments, a novel by Yona Zeldis McDonough ’79.

The Four Temperaments
The Four Temperaments
It tells the story of Oscar Kornblatt, a middle-aged violinist with the New York City Ballet, who becomes bewitched by Ginny Valentine, a young dancer in the ballet’s corps. One night, when Oscar’s quiet, self-possessed wife, Ruth, is away, Oscar brings Ginny back to his Upper West Side apartment, and the two become lovers. Although Ginny ends the affair almost as soon as it begins, Oscar continues to court her, and invites the dancer to Thanksgiving dinner. There, she meets and falls in love with Oscar’s son, Gabriel, who is married to an emotionally unstable woman. As the story unfolds, bonds between family members are tested and strained, and all are forced to focus on, and save, that which matters to them most.

Readers who enjoy McDonough’s clearly drawn and almost palpable characters might not be surprised that the author claims to hear the voices of her novels’ players as she writes. She modestly credits herself as each character’s “conduit, but not its originator,” noting that “it’s an odd sensation — it’s as if a character comes tapping on my shoulder.” The voices of five distinct and sympathetic characters narrate The Four Temperaments, in turn, gracefully choreographing a compelling story that reveals their intertwined ambitions, needs, and frustrations.

While The Four Temperaments is the author’s first published novel, her fiction-writing career spans 20 years; she’s been writing short stories since just after college. She has also written nonfiction, including essays, articles, and children’s books, but admitted that “fiction has always been the gold ring for [her].” She added, “I’ve written nonfiction to sustain fiction writing,” which she half-jokingly calls “a pernicious habit that doesn’t pay well.”

Now she’s in the early stages of a new novel, also to be published by Doubleday. “Right now, I have two characters who are talking to me, but I don’t quite know why they’re in the same book or where they’re going,” laughed McDonough. If The Four Temperaments is any indication, they’re headed someplace quite interesting.

McDonough will be reading from her novel on September 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Community Books, 143 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, NY; telephone 718.783.3075.