Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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52
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
new Twains, and Dreisers and Dostoevskys come along, they
won’t have to pussyfoot about the facts of life. That was worth it.
So I tell myself as I wander through airport bookstores, feeling
vaguely guilty, or as I read galleys of Peter Quat’s latest opus” (p.
213).
This spirited defense of Peter Quat is in actuality a defense not
of Israel David Goodkind but of Herman Wouk. After all, it was
Wouk the novelist who created both characters and who, more
than by the way, made up the titles, language, and plots of Quat’s
“opus.” It is Wouk who, by creating a fictional fiction, and then
defending the artist’s integrity, gets away with telling the plots of
ribald tales and using language not normally associated with
Herman Wouk.
Where does Goodkind the lawyer and
Shomer Shabbat
Jew get
his views on the pre-excellence of the writer? This is where the
novel comes full circle, for he gets his views on literature from his
father. The father reassures his son that he believes that as a law­
yer he can be the best, but this man to whom a whole new work of
liturgical fiction is dedicated believes that “a writer is something
greater. Pindar said, ‘Let me write a nation’s poems, and I care
not who writes its laws’ ” (p. 371). And where did the father get
this secular learning? He was also an “inside, outside” Jew, one
who read, in Yiddish, the great masters of both traditions.
It should be clear by now that the license Herman Wouk has
arrogated to himself extends beyond the use o f vulgar and
obscene language. He has also taken the liberty to portray the
Jews in an unfavorable light. This includes not only the Jew Quat,
but also a certain Goldhandler — an evocative name for a man of
literary talent who has sold his talents to become the lowest of gag
writers. The depiction of unsavory Jews extends even to David
Goodkind’s family, including not only cousins and uncles and
aunts but also, shades of Philip Roth, the narrato r’s mother.
There is, to be sure, a difference between Roth’s and Heller’s
depiction of the Jewish family and Wouk’s. There is more nuance
in Wouk’s novel, as well as a touch of guilt and grudging admira­
tion. Goodkind’s problem with his mother stems from his assess­
ment of her as a parent. She does the right thing in the abstract
perhaps, but she lacks finesse in interpersonal dealings with her
children.