Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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PINSKER / THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH-AMERICAN NOVEL
9
. . . a Mercedes, a house n ea r the beach with moss-brick on
th ree walls in the leisure room, two ovens, the Patty Duke wife,
fou r Donna Reed daugh ters, one son who looked like him, which
wasn’t so bad bu t very Jewish (Lerman, 2).
The rub, of course, is that he continues to be regarded as
a Fetner, despite the fact that he “wanted no part of the soul
or the law or the rabbinate, the lineage, the blood” (Lerman,
3).
By contrast, Yussel’s father lives in a universe where God’s
intention is all, where coincidence does not exist, and where
“an angel stands behind every blade of grass singing, ‘Grow,
darling, grow” (Lerman, 3). Yussel wants no part of such hasidic
rigamarole; he wanted only “to be a wealthy Jew, sell insurance,
live in his house by the ocean in Far Rockaway, be comfortable”
(Lerman, 3). Yussel’s mother feels much the same way about
her saintly, altogether impractical husband who has set up shop
in, of all places, Kansas. She “wanted him to get the schlemiels,
the goniffs, the nogoodniks out of her house, stop, stop, stop”
(Lerman, 13). But Rabbi Fetner persists, trusting in God’s in-
tentionality and in the Fetner penchant for prophecy.
Moreover, if the free-spirited, free-wheeling Rabbi has “God’s
ear,” it is equally true that God has his. And into it HaShem
pours a bizarre message: “I am given [Rabbi Fetner informs
his exasperated son] as Abraham is given, the Voice of the Lord,
and I heard Him and He tells me my son should take all his
money and buy land in Kansas with three palm trees and a
tent” (Lerman, 27). And so, Yussel, the son with a blocked,
“uncircumsized” heart, finds himself shlepping off to the mid­
west in search of three palm trees, a tent, and the fulfillment
o f his father’s loopy dream. In short, the plot thickens as
Lerman’s highly imaginative premise systematically unfolds: an
eccentric, colorful father — adorned in the silk pajamas that
are his trademark — and no-nonsense son scour the Kansas
countryside, discovering at last a roadside inn called the Ari­
zona, along with the three palm trees and tent of Rabbi Fetner’s
vision. At that relatively early point in the novel, the die, as
they say, is cast — especially when Yussel’s father suddenly dies
and his will includes the terrible, prophetic line “And to my
only son, Yussel, I leave my heart.”