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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kaaterskill Falls and religious nutbags.

I was super excited to read Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls because I'm a big fan of the "trapped in a crazy religious environment" sub-genre of novel.

However, I like to see the characters in such novels kick at their metaphorical prison walls. And even less than her soul brotha Chaim Potok does, Goodman never gives me the outright rebellion I crave. The craziest her protagonist gets is dancing with another women (at this point, while reading, I was hoping for a full-fledged lesbian affair) and catering a kosher party from a kosher store, which unfortunately is not quite kosher enough for the Rav of her particular Orthodox Jewish sect. What a sin!

At the end of the book, the character's essential faith in her community is broken, and she sees her religious leaders for the earth-bound, manipulative people they are, but there's nothing she can do about it. She's tied to her many, many, many offspring and her husband and her closed community, and so she is left to navigate her future cynically and sadly.

In a way, there's more realism and tragedy in that finale than there would be in an "A Price Above Rubies" style torrid affair, but I just had a hard time not seeing the leaders of the sect--or cult--get any sort of commeuppance at all.

This nitpicking, however is coming from a lapsed reform Jewess who wears her shortest skirts on Saturdays in Washington Heights--the very neighborhood where Goodman's characters all live--just to offend the felt-hatted Yeshiva bucher neighbors and their self-righteous, headscarf and long skirt-wearing wives (ugh, don't get me started!).

So I suppose my views must be taken with a grain of salt--Kosher of course.

The verdict, minus my bias: it's an absorbing realist portrait with refreshingly straightforward prose. And the latter quality certainly has a holiness to it that I can't overlook.

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