Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tova Reich defends "My Holocaust"

Continuing the unfortunate if understandable tradition that enables writers to respond publicly to critics in the same journal, possibly ad infinitum, Tova Reich faces her foe. Her second time up at the plate. She bemoans the fastballs that struck her out hurled by David Margolick in the NY Times Book Review. Its letters page today unintentionally reveals how leaden her "My Holocaust" score-setting satire must be. Her husband was an ousted director of the National H. Museum. She attacks the exploiters of the Shoah in a send-up of the PR that both inflates the sufferings of competing groups and demeans the memory of the six million. I reviewed (see Amazon) Francine Prose's "A Changed Man" last year that explored similarly mined terrain. Reich defends her novel against David Margolick's critique, first in her own voice, then under a separate letter as if sent by a character from her novel. The NYTBR gave the book the mixed reaction this earnestly churned but not cleverly sustained revenge fantasy has received in the press that I have read. The Forward was lukewarm, and I think only Entertainment Weekly of all the opinions I've encountered actually praised it unreservedly.

Praising "My H.," Judith Plotz sends her letter: "Because Reich is so deeply ironic a writer, it's just barely possible for a willfully inattentive reader to miss the righteous anger" that Plotz finds at the core of Reich's story. Perhaps, although I doubt that Margolick's oblivious to the particularly difficult situation. Reich in her own voice complains that the review "reflected no understanding of either fiction or satire," surely a doubtful claim against a NYT scribe no matter how aggrieved Reich or Plotz or a third, less self-righteous correspondent may cry foul.

Reich in the NYTBR pretends to have taken dictation from a voice of a character in "My Holocaust" who writes letters in this dated Catskill schmaltzy spiel. Reich's clumsy rejoinder from its salutation "Esteemed Mr. Editor" on makes you wonder how much of the novel's as labored and stereotyped. Fewer rather than more readers may pick up the book in question after "Lipman Krakowski" rushes into print to cover his creator's tuchas. The schlemiel spills the soup, the schlamazel gets the borscht in his lap. Playing both Laverne & Shirley, herself and "Lipman," it seems to me Reich's juggling a bowl that tips dangerously.

The handling of the invective here makes "Krakowski" in his rant more punchline of a rabbi's rote schtick than dignified representative speaking for the saving remnant of Yiddishkeit. Dangerously mined fields for any of us to brave. Yet Reich's scaling the electric fence again. Doubling the danger as she hunts down Margolick to avenge her honor through her belletristic character. This lacks the skill of Flann O'Brien, Kafka, or Philip Roth. Yet, Reich rushes in. A "professional letters-to-the-editor writer," (how can I become one and earn my living?) "Krakowski" claims "already 3,647 published letters to my credit." Her conceit is that he rouses up a cri-de-coeur against Margolick on behalf of our aggrieved Mrs. Reich. "The authoress has promised to write it down word for word."

What follows does make a proper plea against romanticizing survivors. "I don't want my claim to fame to be that someone tried to exterminate me." Yet Krakowski exaggerates Margolick's cogent critique into a "Jewish fatwa," roared by a "Jewish ayatollah boxer." As if a normal review turns into an ad hominem attack on fellow tribesman, who is chastised by the way by a third (real) letter writer, who's signed off as rabbi of "Ohev Shalom-- The National Synagogue." Curious: Reich lives in Chevy Chase MD, "Krakowski" in "Wheaton MD," Plotz and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld both in Washington DC! Coincidence of contiguity? A cabal of the Beltway MOT?

Margolick's mocked for this "fatwa." In "Krakowski"'s phrase, the critic's issuing what amounts to a death threat against Reich, "telling her what she can and can not write because of how it looks to the goyim?" I know that the fake letter writer indulges in puffing up the NYTBR reaction in order to deflate it, but Reich's underlying bitterness and recrimination appears disproportionate. All this moralizing fulmination over a bad review? This self-aggrandizement betrays Reich's inability to focus her defense as offense. She as "dear friend" of herself (some ego!) wanders into a dead-end analogy. She betrays her lack of grace in tossing out fistfuls of lumpish irony (so perhaps Plotz in right and Margolick missed it as ladled out so haplessly by Reich herself!). Her tone-deaf renditions of insult try to riff off a NYTBR credit line for Margolick on his work on Joe Louis. This bluster dilutes the punch of the intended letter. It weakens the moral grievance of "Lipman." (Get the name?) This earnest caricature may be witty for Reich, but she's no Swift or Voltaire. Or even Mel Brooks or Woody Allen. This move at outflanking the attacker topples. Splats flat as a stale latke-- against my admittedly and obviously goyishe kopf.

(See blogger's profile mugshot. Snapped on Pesach, I'll have you know. Small paper seder plate in white made by ex-JCC son evident taped to hutch visible; unbottled kosher wine from Carmel, eretz Israel, in background. So much for your stereotypes.) We can never fully understand who can claim membership in such a vexed tribe or its particularly persecuted clan of survivors from the whirlwind. Or, why such murder and torment occurred among those deemed most rational among nations. It's beyond even Bet Din and Nuremberg laws to rule who belongs and who does not. DNA for the soul cannot be traced. Some never born Jewish embrace the "gilgul" and consummate their longing within the Shekinah's presence. Some MOTs begrudge no emotion for their heritage whatsoever, or so they boast in daylight or before they stretch out on their deathbed. Among such a confusing mishmosh, why do some left out demand for recognition surpassing this tribe's tattooed clan? Others meanwhile escape its mark. They vanish into the other 70 nations who rejected a call at Sinai.

We all try, and perhaps must fail, to understand the dark rationality of the Shoah. Not only rabbis confront the enigma of a deity who was called for then and did not appear. Margolick, Reich, her defenders, and her critics all might agree here?)

1 comment:

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