Bits of Kaaterskill Falls

Kaaterskill Falls, oil painting by Thomas Cole, 1826
Kaaterskill Falls, oil painting by Thomas Cole, 1826

I had the pleasure of reading Ilana-Davita’s review of Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman, and I decided I would re-read the book. Ilana-Davita tells us that Allegra (whom I knew years ago, when she was an undergrad at Harvard and I was living in Cambridge, MA) follows the “show, don’t tell” admonition. So instead of telling you about the characters of the novel, I’m going to offer a few favorite passages:


A luminous work on the east wall, unmistakable, even from a distance, Kaaterskill Falls. She rushes over to examine it, leaning forward, hands clasped behind her. FALLS OF THE KAATERSKILL, THOMAS COLE, reads the plaque on the wall. Cole must have set up his easel on the trail — just where she and the girls climbed down from the overhanging park, far down until they reached the stream, the wet hems of their skirts slapping against their legs, the water pouring down from above them over the cliff. She stood there like Cole’s tiny painted Indians, barely visible on the rocks. She has looked out to those mountains and that sky. The place is much more dramatic on canvas, of course, the exuberant water flinging itself below—nothing dirty in this froth. Cole’s trees are straining upward towards the clouds, leaves just turning —burnt orange and gold mixed with green.

Thomas Cole painted more than one Kaaterskill Falls paintings; the one Elizabeth is viewing is probably this one, which is in Alabama at The Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art.


Chani is Elizabeth’s older daughter. She has discovered Zionism and a love for the country of Israel, which is frowned upon in her community.

“So what good is it going to do if we’re all waiting over here in New York? Shouldn’t we be in Israel now?” she suggests recklessly.

“Well,” says Elizabeth, “if you wanted a house and I gave you a model of a house, would you take it?”

“I don’t want a house,” Chani says, and she puts the newspaper down on the counter. Houses in Chani’s mind are made up of chores. A house means making beds and preparing dinner. Picking up toys and washing dishes every night. But a country, a whole country, would be big and full of mountains. Places to climb and places to swim. Bare land. Those words sound good to Chani, like bare feet.

Elizabeth’s Food

In the book, Elizabeth opens a store. I can’t resist a good, descriptive food passage, so:

Every Thursday, James Boyd and Ira Rubin make the trip to the city for Elizabeth Shulman’s kosher provisions. They drive back with warm challahs, and coffee cakes, dozens of rugelach, bags of cookies, meat wrapped in plastic and packed in ice, briskets, rib eye roasts, ground beef, corned beef, and roast beef from the deli in Washington Heights. And then the kosher cheese. Blocks of Swiss and creamy Muenster, round Gouda in red wax, crumbly cubes of feta, balls of mozzarella packed with water in white plastic. There are the cartons of ice cream sandwiches, and Popsicles striped cherry, lemon, blueberry—red, white and blue. And there are special deliveries this week. Smoked fish wrapped in white paper, dozens of miniature Danish, an enormous cake in a pink bakery box tied with string.

Do you have a favorite food description passage from a book? I remember fondly the meal from The Dead, by James Joyce, where the food was more alive than the people in attendance.

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3 thoughts on “Bits of Kaaterskill Falls

  • I like descriptions of food, because I like to cook and to bake.
    Sometimes when I read about food I have to go and cook or bake something. It is the same when I read about gardens, I have to go out and plant or replant something. I get inspired! The red berry photos are lovely I thought first they were rose hips.
    Thank you Leora for stopping by my SW.

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