Archive for the ‘THE BOY WALKER’ Category

JEWISH DOGS IN FICTION

Can a novel be too ethnic? More particularly, can it be too Jewish? These are reasonable questions given that this Sunday I’m launching my new novel The Boy Walker. A 12-year-old English Bulldog narrates. He’s not the first dog to narrate a novel, but he’s certainly one of a very few Jewish dogs to do so.

My canine narrator, Brute Greenbaum—a fount of Talmudic wisdom—is just the beginning. His masters Morty and Abbie—father and adult son living in the same San Francisco house but estranged—also are Jewish. So is their next-door neighbor Rich Hoernerman. And Abbie’s loose-cannon best buddy Doobie Katz. And Sarah O’Hara-Ohara-Horowitz-Chan, a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome. And her stand-up-comic mother, Rivka Horowitz Chan. (“I couldn’t tell my Jewish and Chinese grandmothers apart. They both played mahjong.”)

So really, do you have to be Jewish to read The Boy Walker? Am I committing literary suicide?

I think not. To begin, ethnic fiction—along with fiction from other countries—has a long track record. If only I enjoyed a tenth of the success of writers like Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Gabriel García Márquez, Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gus Lee, Amos Oz, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amy Tan, Alice Walker and A.B. Yehoshua. Remember, too, such Jewish-American writers creating Jewish characters as Saul Bellow, Michael Chabon, E.L. Doctorow, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Philip Roth and Elie Wiesel.

Why their success? Every ethnic, cultural or religious group fits within the human family. Backgrounds and characteristics vary to be sure. Basic values often take on different expressions. Yet ethnic literature exposes meaningful similarities. Think of food. Chances are, you’ve enjoyed among others Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Mexican, Moroccan and Peruvian cooking. I know you recognize the healing power of chicken soup with matzoh balls.

Serious readers derive great satisfaction from discovering cultures different from their own. The pages of a novel can reveal people we may never meet and customs we may never experience. We’re struck not only by the differences but also by important similarities. “They” stop being so foreign. “We” realize that ultimately people are all different just the same.

This also holds true of novels depicting geographic or class differences within our own nation. Imagine denying the relevance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in big cities, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury outside the South or Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March beyond Chicago’s city limits. And what do we do with Twain, Dickens, Proust and others who wrote so long ago?

This Sunday (Jan. 26) from 3:30 to 5:00 pm, I’ll launch The Boy Walker at the Toy Boat Dessert Café on Clement Street at 5th Avenue. I’ll speak and read at 4:15. Do come by. Buy a book if you like, and I’ll sign it. Or just say hello.

See how a very Jewish novel related by a very Jewish dog offers a story with a number of elements specific to Jewish life but as familiar as love of family, the suffering we must endure and the redemptive power of humor.

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Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village, too. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

LAUGHING AT THE ANGEL OF DEATH

Death appears frequently in this week’s Torah portion, Va’yishlach (Genesis 32:4–36:43). It’s only fitting. I’ve been thinking about death lately. Also humor. They go hand in hand. As it says on the back cover of my upcoming novel The Boy Walker (available around the first of the year; I’ll keep you posted): death is nothing—and everything—to laugh about.

First Torah: Jacob escapes possible death at the hands of his elder twin Esau when they meet after twenty years. Jacob had been sent off by his mother Rebecca after he stole Esau’s birthright and blessing. Then things go downhill. Shechem, a Hivite prince, rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Pursuing revenge, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi trick then slaughter the men of the town. The rest of Jacob’s sons go on a plunder spree. Jacob protests the murderous rampage. Simeon and Levi respond, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”

There’s more. D’vorah, Rebecca’s nursemaid, dies. Then Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, dies birthing Benjamin on the road to Ephrat. (Her traditional tomb lies in Bethlehem.) Finally, Isaac dies, “gathered to his kin in ripe old age.” Yet there is uplift. Esau and Jacob together bury their father.

As to me, I’ve been noting the dwindling of my family. My Aunt Rita—my mother’s sister—is the last of my blood aunts and uncles. Several cousins have died, too. Still, life goes on. I have a wife and children. My sister Kay turned seventy-five two days ago. She has two grandsons. And I keep writing.

I’ve been working on short stories. Several reflect on death—physical and emotional. A retired astronaut contemplates the meaninglessness of life on his eightieth birthday. An actuary must live with a heart transplanted from a police officer with a terrible secret. An Israeli gangster becomes religious then disillusioned via the workings of the Satan. A painter learns that art in the highest circles is all about business.

Then there’s The Boy Walker. The beginning of the novel relates, “The Malach HaMavet—the Angel of Death—seizes victims arbitrarily and inflicts on their survivors wounds both horrific and seemingly irreparable.” Don’t be depressed. Preceding chapter one is a stand-up comedy bit from the novel’s narrator, Brute Greenbaum. “Dogs are way smarter than people,” he states. Then he makes his case. Brute knows.  He’s a 12-year-old English Bulldog equivalent to a human centenarian. His tongue is worse than his bite.

Death haunts not only Brute but also his father-and-son co-masters. But comedy intervenes. Lots of it. I can think of no better approach to mortality. Laughter produces endorphins, which boost our bodies and spirits. And audiences aren’t the only ones who benefit. Brute notes about angst-ridden comics: “For a stand-up, a gig is therapy. Only the patient gets paid.”

My English professor and advisor at Alfred University, Mel Bernstein (z”l), once told me, “Never lose your sense of humor.” Who knows? Laughter just might inspire the Malach HaMavet to raise a glass of California Chardonnay or a Manhattan and toast, “L’chaim! To life!”

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

CAN WE TALK?

I’ve been looking at photos of myself. My friend Ellen Newman took them. I’m not playing out the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his image in a pool of water. I need an updated author’s headshot for my new novel The Boy Walker, officially launching this February. Alas, like most people, I see images on screen that don’t match those inside my head.

Oh that we could all look like Hollywood stars! Of course, movies and TV are about illusion. The camera often loves our idols only after extensive assistance from hairdressers, makeup artists, costume designers, the occasional apple box on which to appear taller, and a cinematographer’s skilled adjustment of lights and camera angles.

Beauty of the soul is another matter. It’s found on the inside and requires some searching out. This takes effort. So we often drift towards what lies on the surface, deceiving ourselves that “what you see is what you get.”

I see a parallel with technology. Oh how easily we fall in love with bells and whistles. Millions of people can’t do without tech’s equivalents of the Kardashians and the housewives of New Jersey. Technology often seems to exist for its own sake. Anything that can be programmed must be worthwhile. “I exist, therefore I’m meaningful.”

Here in San Francisco, headquarters of social media, Heaven help those who don’t prostrate themselves to the gods of code. A recent article in the Chronicle explained that many adults take classes to relate to younger, twenty-something programmers. Said programmers can be quite dismissive of anyone who doesn’t speak their language. It’s like the old ‘sixties protest: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Lacking patience and basic communications skills, they turn off to their clients—the very people who pay them. This can throw a digital monkey wrench into the plans of anyone trying to get a website going.

Am I now an official curmudgeon in spite of using an (old) iPhone? Check out any restaurant. It’s a rare table at which one or more—or all—diners under thirty aren’t engrossed with their devices. Older folks, too. They text, tweet, comment on Facebook or engage with email. The world must know what they’re eating and drinking, and when they go to the bathroom. Right now! Rather than talk, they flash their screens at each other.

Ideally, technology makes communicating simpler by rendering physical distance irrelevant. Yet often it increases emotional distance. People seem increasingly challenged to converse face to face. It’s hard to engage a person whose device puts someone supposedly more exciting a click away. I’m reminded of cocktail parties where guests keep looking past each other to search out more enticing partners for sharing empty smiles and inane babble.

As to my author photos, I’m satisfied. Still, they’re just digital representations. For the real me—the real you—you have to dig deeper. This post—a somewhat long-form use of technology—can help. But it’s no substitute for meeting in the flesh, taking time and making the effort to really get to know someone. There’s just no app for that.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com.