Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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HOROWITZ / PORTNOY’S SISTER
31
promp ts an in terio r monologue which melds imagery from the
Song o f Songs,
Kedushah,
benedictions, and o the r sources:
She wou ld seal him into a tower, a jew e lled wall, board him
in cedar. A sea o f love, she would wash him in light, ano int him
with air, with water.
When she was little and had no breasts she did not know.
New all her body was praise and her be ing exu lting , holy, holy,
holy, who enab led her to reach this day. (115-16)
VARIETIES OF JUDAISM
Early on, Ju d ith learns to describe h e r family as “not O rtho ­
dox, we’re observant. H er mo ther d idn ’t believe in O rthodox ,
Conservative and Reform. Labels divide, her m o ther said” (3).
By contrast, Allegra Goodman plunges the reader into a Jewish
world divided and subdivided by labels and — at the same time
— remarkably cohesive, and resistant to assimilation and d if­
fusion. Set primarily in the West coast, in Hawaii, and in En­
gland, the in terconnected short stories o f
Total Immersion
ex­
p lore the intricate social webs, personal animosities, and reli­
gious disputations tha t govern Jewish communities. A character
in “Young People” elaborates, “I was fo rtuna te to live in three
cultures as a child: my p a ren t’s traditional home, the O rthodox
shul, and Israel. But my kids are really lucky. They ’re growing
up in at least five cultures: the traditional Yemeni at the ir g rand ­
m o the r’s, the O rthodox shtieble on the corner, Israel, my
friends from the Institu te o f Social Analysis and Greenwich Vil­
lage, and ou r black neighbo rhood” (170). T he secular context
neither threa tens no r depletes Jewish life; ra ther, a creative (and
frequently amusing) cultural and personal interchange often en ­
sues. T h e protagonist o f “Varient T ex t ,” for example, learns
tha t his child’s “gan” (pre-school) is “governed by the standards
o f Kohlberg, Piaget, the Rav Soloveichik” (79). Satirically aimed
at the foibles and flaws o f h er characters, Goodman’s writing
does not suggest tha t they have any more or any fewer faults
because o f the ir Jewishness.
As in R apopo rt’s novel, Juda ism is the assumed backdrop
against which most o f Goodman’s stories unfold. A lthough a
glossary comes to the aid o f uninitiated readers in
Total Immer­