Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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LOWIN / HERMAN WOUK AND THE LITURGICAL NOVEL
47
describes the death scene, and he asserts that he does not need to
write a eulogy of his father. “I have written it already, such as I
could” (p. 630).
The book presents itself as an artless memoir of times gone by.
If we did not have Goodkind’s protestations to that effect, we
would be able to discern an intention of artlessness from the very
diction of the memoir, which is pedestrian in the extreme. If that
were all it was — a memoir — then we could now proceed to show
why the young man now grown older felt compelled to write a
sentimental rehearsal of his life and times and then examine why
he chose to conclude it with a paean of praise for his progenitor.
But that enterprise would verge on the maudlin and would not
begin to account for the complexity and considerable artfulness
of this book.
What, for example, is the meaning of the many protestations of
truthfulness we find in the novel? At the beginning of his text, the
narrator asserts that his program is to be a faithful recorder of the
truth as it transpired: “Mainly,” he asseverates, “I ’ll tell the tru th”
(p. 12). Throughout the long and meandering tale that takes him
from the Bronx to Columbia University, from Broadway to
Madison Avenue, and from Washington, D.C. to Jerusalem ,
Israel, he insists that, despite appearances to the contrary, “the
tru th” is what he is telling. “This is a story you may not believe, but
it happened exactly as I will tell you” (p. 239), he asserts. In
another instance, he makes a similar point. “I couldn’t make that
up, now, could I?” (p. 285).
Throughout the novel, Israel David Goodkind sets himself up
as rival — or perhaps a corrective — to his client Peter Quat,
trumpeted in the world of literature as the chronicler of the “Jew­
ish experience in America.” For example, Quat has written a
novella called
The Smelly Melamed,
based on the life of one of
Goodkind’s old Talmud Torah teachers. Goodkind writes in pro­
test that “Mar Weil was a gentle old scholar, and there was no lit­
erature in him. I just thought he rated a paragraph, if Shraga
Glutz rated a whole novella, since at least Mar Weil existed” (p.
180).
More than once, Goodkind sets his “real,” “true” narrative
against Quat’s fictive one. Quat tells the story of a Goodkind fam­
ily wedding which he attended, depicted as more grotesque than
the wedding in Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus.” Goodkind
corrects: “I will tell you what really happened at Aunt Faiga’s