Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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AUMGARTEN/ URBAN FAILURES
19
he ir marginal and meager villages into the fabled metropolis o f
ffluence and acceptance. In the process, Merry constructs the
ext o f h er fa the r’s life — or ra the r she invents and discovers the
eanings o f her fa the r’s life by assembling the narrative o f her
wn prehistory. Following in her fa the r’s calling without his flam­
oyant idealism, she is the sober historian o f the ir common des­
iny. In constructing a text out o f a meditation on the meaning o f
e r enigmatic, charistmatic father, realistic, keen-eyed Merry
lays Nick Carraway’s role to ano ther imm igrant, Gatsby.”13
Merry discovers tha t Ez is for h er the spirit o f the city.
efending the city even against his complaints, she speaks for its
ossibilities in its time o f disrepair. T h a t’s “ju s t what I mean about
he
spirit
o f the city! Even from something foolish — worse than
oolish, commercial, meretricious — even from something
that
ad,
that
destructive, the spirit o f the city itself can wrest some­
h ing wonderful. I t’s always self-renewing . . . We are
wrong
to
align cities.
I ’ve
been wrong.”14 Kaplan’s novel brings toge ther
he attention to lyric moments o f Paley’s work and Bellow’s con­
ern to chart the epic sweep o f an entire culture in a realistic
rose. Like Bellow’s
O My America
has a satiric edge. Like Augie,
erry has news to bring about the ways in which we gain power in
nd o f the city. Fu rtherm o re , Kaplan’s novel explores the new
rban configurations in American life, notably the university as a
ersion o f city life. Merry realizes that her life is not only u rban
u t pa r t o f the process o f invention o f the meanings o f city life.
ike h er father, the first u rban man o f his American time, she is
ommitted to the city. His example, despite all its confusions,
ffers her a way o f learning how to continue to live in the city even
s it decays. “I f I lived here ,” Merry muses about the city, “I would
ever be bored .” T he city is not only her chosen environment but
he embodiment o f the value o f individuality. H er fa the r’s pres­
nce defines it: “And even now, on dusty spring evenings, when
he heard this cry, ‘Take a giant step,’ from children playing
utside, five floors beneath h er windows, it gave Merry back her
arliest sense o f Ez: Ez walking, musing and distant, with his
road , hopeful strides, nearly sliding up the block.”15 Con­
3 Murray Baumgarten,
City Scriptures. ModemJewish Writing.
Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 163.
4 Johanna Kaplan,
O My America,
New York: Harper & Row, 1980, p. 211.
5 Johanna Kaplan,
O My America,
New York: Harper & Row, 1980, pp. 205-6.