Sunday, October 9, 2011


Today my superfriend, Amber, posted her review of Foreskin's Lament, and it reminded me that I hadn't yet posted my craft annotation for this book (I know you were on pins and needles for this one), so heretis:


Throughout his Foreskin’s Lament, Shalom Auslander utilizes biblical allusions to illustrate the biblical illusions that so completely permeated his childhood and still maintain a hold on his decisions. The allegories he employs are effective in indirectly revealing the results of raising a child drenched in Orthodox Judaism and, through his particular sardonic and wounded interpretations, support the assertions he makes regarding God’s mean humor and predictable abuse of his most steadfast disciples.

Auslander opens his book with a wry perversion of Deuteronomy:
4. And the Lord said unto Moses,
“This is the land I promised you,
But you shall not enter. Psych.”
5. And Moses died.
It’s the “psych” that makes it art. And makes quite clear to the reader what they’re in for—Be ready for mordancy, kids. This ride shall be not saccharine nor gentle. We’re going to get into it with God. Sissies and puritans make a U-turn—this one ain’t for you.

This particular yeshiva student was no dummy. He knew his Talmud. He could bless the soup and the bread in the proper order. When Auslander references biblical stories it’s clear that this narrator is one disenchanted but well-schooled. This fluency lends Auslander credibility; he’s not some half-assed Jew no longer into religion ‘cause it’s restricting or not cool. He knows—has known for a while—why he believes what he does.

A major component of this Lament is the character of God as a malicious prankster—it’s in The Book! When young Auslander is committing all 613 sins of Sabbath fracture by taking a cab to the mall, Moses comes to mind. Auslander thinks,
I . . . realized what had troubled me about that whole damn story; it wasn’t simply that God had crushed [Moses’s] life dream . . . it was that He knew. God knew. He’d never let Moses into the Promised Land . . . but He still let him wander around the desert like a shcmuck for forty years searching for it. (136)
With this biblical evidence in mind, Auslander considers: if God’s enough of an ass to kill Moses just as he glimpses what he’d been journeying toward for 40-some-odd years, what’s to stop him from offing a kid who isn’t observing the Sabbath like he knows he should (136)? When Auslander asserts that God’s got it in for sinners, readers understand where he got the idea; readers are familiar with the stories he references and can’t deny that his interpretation of the tales is viable—watch where you step, God’s a miscreant—the proof’s right there.

Auslander’s fluency in the religion that raised him is such that it’s natural and reasonable for him to parallel his situation and choices to those of prophets and major players in the religious stories; these faulty titans were significant contributors in his upbringing. While putting his little son to bed one night Auslander sees himself as a Moses character: “My Promised Land, the one I had been stumbling around looking for for these past thirty years, would be one with no God, at least not with the God I knew, and I realized then that, like Moses, I would probably never get there, either. But my son—he might just have a shot” (306). Using the Moses tale as corroborating proof is a successful storytelling method for Auslander because not only do his readers appreciate where he’s coming from, they are better able to stomach his ire, seeing it as born of his thick education.

This wasn’t a published exercise in research—which is patently obvious through the colloquial and irreverent language of which Auslander avails himself when retelling the well-known stories. But his references to biblical tales do add weight to the author’s conclusion: that God’s a spiteful sonofabitch. His evaluations of the Moses, Abraham, and Isaac tales have the power to lead along even the most skeptical of readers to a point of understanding. Auslander used The Good Book against Itself. And it worked.

(Work Cited: Foreskin's Lament)


Audrey said...

Very nicely done. And now I want to read it for more than the story. Three cheers for craft annotations!

Sue said...

God's an ass?

Megan said...

Read the book. The author quite clearly makes that assertion. It's hilarious and sad all at once.