Hope: A Tragedy
2012, $26.95, pp. 304
"While there's never a good time to find Anne Frank in your attic, this was a particularly bad time."
What we have right there, folks, is Existentialist dead-pan.
Borscht Belt magical realism.
Kafka as sbpritzer.
And if these one-line paragraphs, not to mention predicate-less sentences, seem more like jazz-inflected stand-up material than sophisticated literature, you ain't heard nothin' yet. Because this is Shalom Auslander's crafty modus operandi for delivering his critique of modern Jewish-American identity as pseudo-victim in his novel, Hope: A Tragedy.
Here's a sbpritz-run on the fourth page, when the novel's protagonist, Solomon Kugel, thinks he hears a strange sound issuing from his attic:
"You're frightening yourself.
You're torturing yourself.
It's delusions of grandeur.
Shalom Auslander is the young American writer who burst on the scene with his memoir of growing up in the Orthodox Jewish enclave of Monsey, New York--"I was raised like a veal" --entitled Foreskin's Lament. He is touted as the new voice of Jewish-American literature.
And such a voice? I'm telling you, I can't tell you. Auslander is a tummler of angst. He makes Jackie Mason sound like an innocuous goofball. Because with this voice of his, Auslander takes on nothing less than our sanctimonious love affair with the Sboab.
Our Jewish-American Holocaust envy.
Our turning the victims of the Final Solution into dreamy pop icons. Like Anne Frank, she who has taken up residence in Kugel's attic.
Auslander also gives us Kugel's mother, who insists that she, personally, suffered through the Nazi persecutions although, in fact, she had a perfectly normal and harmless upbringing in Brooklyn and at Catskill summer camps. This over-the-top character, like Auslander's over-the-top Anne-Frank-in-the attic conceit, caricatures a distressing secret of many Jewish Americans: We somehow feel entitled to claim the Holocaust as our own experience even though most of us were not anywhere near Europe during the Second World War. In fact, many of us--I'm not mentioning any names--were at summer camp in the Catskills at the time.
This is to laugh, according to Auslander. And guess what? I almost fell out of my chair laughing many times while reading the first few chapters of this slyly upsetting novel.
Here is Kugel on his mother's seders, at which she...