Page 158 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
dinary was ordinary all along. Wieseltier’s defense of the serious­
ness of the Jewish tradition against those who would seek to de­
stroy the heroic image of our heroes is precisely what Heller is
fighting against. His book is mock epic, seeking to redress pro­
portions.5There is an analogy to be made between Heller’s enter­
prise and that of Francois Rabelais, the sixteenth-century French
humorist and religious humanist. Heller, in his vulgarity, in his
childishness, in his irreverence for the sacred, is similar to and no
less serious than the author of
Gargantua
and
Pantagruel.
Heller’s
work, like Rabelais’, contains a
substanifique moelle\
to get at the
marrow, however, it is necessary to crack the bones, that is to say,
to do a little analytical reading. As we can see in
Good as Gold,
there is nothing more serious than Heller’s handling of the Jew­
ish experience.
King David is not the first Jewish king to be portrayed in Jo ­
seph Heller’s fiction. That distinction, metaphorically at least, be­
longs to Julius Gold, the seemingly crabby old
kvetch,
father of
Bruce Gold, the main protagonist of Heller’s third novel. The
most devastating review of
Good as Gold,
published in
The Village
Voice,
came from the pen of Eliot Fremont-Smith.6 Fremont-
Smith, missing or ignoring the moral content of all of Heller’s
work, and turning his back on
Good as Gold’s
substantial artistic
achievements, called the book “anti-Semitic,” and accused Heller
of being cut from the same cloth as Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy,
notorious for his insensitivity to Jewish concerns. Fremont-Smith
even goes so far as to insinuate that in writing what
he
labels an
anti-Semitic work, Heller was pandering to a then-current Amer­
ican fashion in order to increase sales of his book. One might an­
swer Fremont-Smith’s accusations by saying that only a lazy critic
would fail to see the positive portrayal of the Jews in the
“substantific marrow” of
Good as Gold.
As in
Something Happened,
almost nothing “happens” in
Good as
Gold.
In the end, Bruce Gold does
not
divorce his wife. Nor does
he become the youngest Jewish Secretary of State since Henry
Kissinger. Nor, in fact, does he write that scholarly tome on “the
Jewish experience in America.” These are all possible outcomes
5 Emblematic of David’s lucidity and sense of proportion is his statement: “I had
taken a kingdom the size of Vermont and created an empire as large as the
state o f Maine”
(GK,
p. 256.).
6 Eliot Fremont-Smith. “Kvetch-22,”
The Village Voice,
March 5,1979, pp. 74-75.