Burdens by Water


** Finalist for 2017 Foreword INDIES Book Award **

In a series of strangely resilient personal adventures often — beginning with breakups, and fueled by a sense of invincible longing — essayist Alan Rifkin flings himself at the last vestiges of the Southern California Dream. He chases summer with a pool man, lives with monks in a Santa Barbara monastery, joins a dysfunctional Los Angeles writing club, communes with wild dolphins, traces the steps of Otzi the Iceman, emulates a Bible-based marriage, and confronts his mother's last season in his beloved San Fernando Valley, in each case wrestling with mysteries of heaven and earth. By the time he looks up, he has waded deep into the complications of later life — compromised love, family tragedy, and what it might mean to be a grownup in the 21st century West.

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Praise for Burdens by Water

"One of the true LA originals, Alan Rifkin is easy to catch in the act of being brilliant. He writes with a diamond cutter's artistry about everything from swimming pools to swooning hearts and knows that 'there's as much ache as joy' in both. There are only a handful of writers who can make anything interesting, and whether he's dealing with monks, dolphins, telescopes or unhappy marriage, Burdens by Water proves that Rifkin is one of them."
 John Powers, Critic-at-Large, NPR's "Fresh Air"

 "Exquisitely considered and built out with one impeccably gorgeous sentence after another, Rifkin's stories are as honest and fully, soulfully inhabited as I remember them being when I first read (envied, studied!) him in magazines. As journalism continues to change and favor the hot take and fast draw, this is the kind of writing I miss most of all - larky and searching, yet meaningful and often mind-blowing. Surprise yourself and dive in."  
— Hank Stuever, Washington Post writer and author of Tinsel and Off Ramp


"Anything Alan Rifkin writes, I will read. Engaging, full of curious facts, often hilarious, and effortlessly profound, these essays zero in on the souls of their subjects, be they novice monks, neurotic writers, or a 5000 year-old mummy. Modesty, frankness and intelligence are Rifkin's trademarks-and oh, such beautiful writing."
— Michelle Huneven, author of Blame and Off Course


"Alan Rifkin's memoir takes us to wild places: from a Capuchin monastery and a Chilean observatory to the San Fernando Valley and the personal past. Alive with deep comedy, honesty and grace, this is a terrific book."  
— Charlie Haas, author of The Enthusiast

"[T]his blinkered age needs the sort of unifying narratives found in Rifkin's collection more than ever... Rifkin's mastery of narrative architecture and the crystallizing line never let contemplations run away or the prose grow too ponderous."
— Los Angeles Review of Books

"An original and funny/sad compilation . . .  'Pool Man' chronicles, with humor and pathos, the author's adventures trailing after a Southern California pool man.  'Consider the Richardsons' compares his own attempt (despite being Jewish) at living a Bible-based Christian marriage with [that of] an evangelical pastor acquaintance. . . The elegiac 'E Luxo So (It's Only Luxury)' details growing up in Encino, CA, in the wake of his parents' divorce.  The rest of the collection is equally engaging, but these three pieces are excellent examples of the craft."
— Library Journal