Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good for the Jews: Sad, drifting characters based on book of Esther

Good for the Jews (Michigan Literary Fiction Awards)Good for the Jews by Debra Spark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good for the Jews is loosely based on the biblical book of Esther. The main characters "Ellen" instead of "Esther," "Mose" instead of "Mordachai,"Alex" instead of "Aucharaus," "Hyman" instead of "Haman," and "Valerie" in place of "Vashti"--are all based on the biblical characters.

There is a great deal going on in this book. Ellen and her sister were raised by their cousin Mose after being orphaned as children. Alex and his wife Valerie separate and divorce after an angry, spiteful marriage, and a very clueless and not-very-sympathetic Alex soon takes up with Ellen, a woman 18 years his junior. Mose is a talented history teacher and is victimized and maligned by a new principal, Hyman. A girl dies in a fire at a synagogue, and Alex and Valerie's son, Doug, is torn apart in his grief. Themes of anti-semitism and the complexity of hate run through the novel.

I was not grabbed by any of the characters in particular, hence the three stars. The book jacket describes this book as "sexy," but I wouldn't call it so. Instead, I found it full of sad, drifting characters, every one of them. Much like the bible, in fact. Ellen makes a wise choice in the end, although during the book it's not clear whether she will be true to herself.

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