Several years ago, when Philip Roth's novel "Portnoy's Complaint" turned 25, I spent a few days in the New York Public Library researching the Jewish community's reaction to the book. I discovered that the response to it (as well as to the stories in "Goodbye, Columbus," which appeared a few years earlier) was a combination of rage and puzzlement. The level of shock and hurt expressed by community leaders was less surprising to me, though, than the unanimity of response.
What is missing in the uniformly negative response to Wendy Shalit’s recent bombshell in the New York Times Book Review, about how Jewish fiction bashes Orthodoxy, is an acknowledgement of the partial correctness of her claim: That by and large, Orthodox Judaism is more often the focus of wicked satire than fulsome praise.
Shalit’s tone in her essay “The Observant Reader” was so dismissive, and her blurring of the lines between fiction and community P.R. so thorough, that it was hard to find the nugget of truth in her critique.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
I’ve spent the past three days wondering what would happen if I could have put (the late) John Lennon and Israeli President Shimon Peres in the same room. Like the recurring leitmotif in so many Hassidic folktales, I think it’s possible that the messiah would have come. Two dreamers, trying to leapfrog over the messiness of this world to see what might lie beyond…
Nathan Englander's first book, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges," caused considerable buzz when it was released in 1999. Tall and slender, with a mane of dark curls and soft features befitting a biblical hero, the 30-something author became the darling of the Jewish book-fair circuit, drawing swarms of potential book buyers in Jewish Community Centers and synagogues nationwide.