Page 159 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

Basic HTML Version

LOWIN / THE JEWISH ART OF JOSEPH HELLER
147
of the novel that do not see the light of day. None of these things
happens. Near the end of the novel, as “happened” in both
Catch-22
and
Something Happened,
and as will “happen” in
God
Knows,
somebody other than the main protagonist dies. In this
case, it is Gold’s older brother Sid. Also, while Gold does not write
his scholarly book but merely ends up by asking where he might
begin, Joseph Heller — by the time the novel draws to a conclu­
sion — has succeeded in creating an impressionistic work of art
which paints, not exactly the Jewish experience in America, but
many effects of that experience.
SIMILAR PATTERN ’S
There are several similarities in patterns of artistic behavior in
God Knows
and
Good as Gold.
Like King David, Gold is a writer, not
merely of academic scholarship but of fictional narrative and
poetry. Gold is also in the habit, like King David, of commenting
on the writings of classical Jewish writers and modern novelists.
The Book of Job is a mystery to him, “the text overblown and the
knowledge colloquial”
(GG,
p. 178). Dickens he calls a long-
winded novelist, “whose ponderous works are flawed by a proces­
sion of eccentric one-sided characters.”
There are one-sided characters in
Good as Gold,
such as Harris
Rosenblatt, a Jew whose assimilation into American mainstream
culture is viewed as pure treachery. Rosenblatt doesn’t really as­
similate; he metamorphoses, or so he would like to think, into a
quintessential
goy.
Two of the most biting jokes in the book are
made at Rosenblatt’s expense, one in the form of a three-line dia­
logue:
Rosenblatt: “I used to be a Jew, you know.”
Gold: “I used to be a hunchback.”
Rosenblatt: “Isn’t it amazing. . . how we’ve both been able to
change!”
(GG,
p. 913)
Of course. Rosenblatt’s main sin is that he is not even aware that
metamorphoses take place only in the fantasy world of Kafka,
and not in 20th-century America. This message is brought home
to the reader, if not at all to the blithely unconscious social
upstart, in an episode in which the WASP patrician Pugh Biddle
Conover is able to convince Rosenblatt that all huntsmen after an
invigorating hunt shoot their best hunting dog in the head. To