The Tenth Song
by Naomi Ragen
The Tenth Song is an eye-opening, unpredictable novel that will have you rethinking the way you live your life. Ragen generalizes about the materialistic nature of American Jews, pointing to the void of spiritual meaning in their day-to-day existence. It can, however, be read as a commentary on American society in general, as the majority of us tend to be more bottom-line oriented than spiritual. We want what we want, when we want it, and rarely stop to reflect on the quality of our lives and on whether or not we truly feel fulfilled by more than just the things we own and how much is in our bank accounts.
When the story opens, we see Abigail Samuels reflecting on how wonderful life is, how beautiful her garden is and how happy she is to be spending the day planning her youngest daughter’s engagement party. Like a Danielle Steele novel, it’s not hard to figure out that such a perfect life is about to have a bomb dropped within its midst. And sure enough, by the second chapter, all is no longer well with her perfect family and its perfect existence. Her husband of forty years, Adam, a prominent and highly successful accountant, very well respected in the Jewish community, is arrested and charged with a horrible crime. Abigail must be the strong one, even though she feels anything but.
As the story unfolds, we see how this tragedy affects Abigail, Adam and all three of their grown children; however, the story mostly focuses on Kayla, the youngest, who had just gotten engaged. Kayla is a Harvard law student, as is her fiancé, and had a bright future she had been about to embark on. All of that is placed in jeopardy, and Kayla impulsively flees to the Israeli Desert to try to find out who she really is and what she really wants. Kayla, who had been spoiled her entire life, is forced to rethink her life and how she wants to live it.
I have to say that at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read about someone’s spiritual awakening (once I realized that’s what was happening); but I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did. As I stated upfront, this is an eye-opening novel and the questions confronting Kayla, Abigail and Adam are questions we should all be asking ourselves and pushing to find the answers that satisfy and complete us.
There is much to be learned from this novel, the most important of which is that we all have a number of songs in us. Once one is finished, it is only natural that you move onto the next, until you reach your tenth and final song, the one that will define your life and make your existence worthwhile. It is this tenth song we should all be striving to perfect. It’s an interesting philosophy, especially for those of us trying to make sense of a world that is not always sensible and hardly ever fair.
Towards the end of the novel, Kayla’s father, Adam, shares this reflection: “Sometimes one was never destined to reap the rewards of one’s efforts. If you did, you should consider it a blessing, not a natural outcome.” Ragen’s well-spun tale, beautifully written, backs this up and forces each and every reader to re-evaluate their lives, however fairly or unfairly they’ve been judged over the course of their lives. As I said a couple times now, it’s eye-opening stuff, very worthwhile.