Sunday, October 12, 2008

79. "When We Were Bad" - Charlotte Mendelson

Perhaps the title should be: When We Were Naughty, Naughty Adults. Though "naughty" adds more spice where there is only blandness, like marzipan.

Four adult children of the famed rabbi, actress, broadcaster, and author, Claudia Rubin, will do anything to make mama happy. At their house, the term, "When mama ain't happy, nobody's happy," has a disturbing bend. For example, her husband, when finding out that his book will be published a mere two weeks after her book, keeps it a secret because he fears that Claudia has the power to shut down the presses.

Still, all children must rebel, and at the age of 33 (?) and 28, Frances and Leo (respectively) begin to rage against the mama machine. They are "bad" because they are choosing to live their own lives, rather than the one that Claudia has created for them. "With this family, you are for us or against us," she says. Well, okay, at least we know the stakes.

At turns desperately depressing and sardonic (at one point, the father sees one of those gloomy, cat-loving women that make him nervous, then realizes it's his daughter, Frances), the entire novel reaches for more than it can deliver. There are hints at outrageous past lives, mental illness, and incomplete characterization (the two youngest children - in their 20s - are considered artistic, so they are not expected to work, yet live at home, toking up and stealing checks). The experience left me saying, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?" (WTF, for those of you who aren't exposed to college students and the latest lingo.)

2.0 out of 5.0 Gin Sours.


For my personal quest (connecting the dots), this was a tough one. I could re-read the Torah, but I do have a copy of a book about one of Moses's wives. "Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah." Hey, I admitted that I might stretch things, didn't I? I just didn't admit that it may be thinner than the vein of an angel's wing.


mariposa said...

Cool blog!

Kristin Dodge said...

Welcome... come again.

Jason said...

I've been reading Philip Roth's Operation Shylock and he has an antagonist named "Moishe Pipik," which apparently is Yiddish for "Moses Bellybutton."

The book is a mindbender, though. Lots of fun.

Kristin Dodge said...

Jason, you are a rock star... now I can connect "Zipporah" to "Operation Shylock." Muah-ha-ha, this is easier than I thought, she thinks, rubbing her hands together before breaking into the library.

Pete said...

The publisher sent me an unsolicited review copy of this book, which has been sitting unread on my shelf for months. Thanks for letting me know it's safe to leave it that way, and eventually dispose of it.

Gayle said...

I've had my eye on this book... was going to request a review copy. Now I know not to. Thanks for the review.

Kristin Dodge said...

Pete and Gayle, I'm just one reviewer, and many have loved this book. However, when I read, "So this is why most people hate Jews," I thought, "Who finds this hilarious?"