"A funny, affecting novel about fragmented lives that slip the leash."– Kirkus Reviews
In Perlstein’s (Slick!, 2011) winsome fable, a protective dog and the therapeutic effects of stand-up comedy help heal a wounded family.
Abbie Greenbaum is a 25-year-old slacker in San Francisco who coasts through a life centered on desultory dog-walking gigs and a garage band. He still lives with his dad, Morty, an American studies professor who specializes in deep ruminations on TV comedy. Morty’s English bulldog, Brutus, who’s chief among Abbie’s canine charges, narrates their story with a stately aplomb befitting his advanced age and arthritic hips. Brutus so identifies with his masters that he considers himself a fellow Jew; in his own mind, he’s adopted the name Baruch and presides benignly over Morty’s frequent observances of Jewish memorial rituals. There’s a lot for Morty to mourn, as his daughter, Sara, and wife, Lenore, died years ago—a tragedy that overshadows his strained relationship with Abbie. Another girl named Sarah, a motor-mouthed 10-year-old with Down syndrome, bounces into Abbie’s dog-walking routine along with her mother, Rivka, a half-Jewish, half-Chinese professional stand-up comic. Over the course of the story, Abbie gets embroiled in a friend’s half-baked drug-dealing scheme, Morty comes down with lung cancer, and both become infatuated with Rivka, who prods Morty through her stand-up comedy class. Perlstein’s novel has some twee conceits that might have overwhelmed it, particularly the plummy, stentorian narrative voice of Brutus, who sounds like Henry James scoping out a nightclub (“Understanding my role as Abbie’s wingman—and aware of the attraction that an English Bulldog of my stature maintains for women of all ages—I gazed instead into the young Latina’s eyes as might Rudolph Valentino in the era of silent films”). Fortunately, the author’s gift for sharp, empathetic human characterizations rescues the proceedings. He steeps the story in well-observed renditions of West Coast Jewish culture, from homey dinner routines to the theory and practice of stand-up comedy, in which kvetching is the wellspring of artistic revelation. Perlstein offsets the shtick with psychological depth and nuance, keeping it charming throughout.
A funny, affecting novel about fragmented lives that slip the leash.
As a deadlocked election grips the fictional sultanate of Moq’tar, no issue is safe from Perlstein’s (God’s Others, 2010, etc.) wit as he lampoons politics in the Gulf.
Bobby Gatling, a retired U.S. soldier now employed by a private security firm, is on assignment in Moq’tar. While Bobby’s been training security forces, the aging sultan has allowed his favorite son, Yusuf, to run the country. Western-educated with an MBA from Berkeley, Yusuf has been hard at work, in the capitalist fashion, transforming Moq’tar into “Moq’tar, Inc.” And his sister, the alluring Zoraya, has been with him every step of the way. But everything gets complicated quickly when it turns out that the succession isn’t as certain as Yusuf (and America) thought. Between a drunken U.S. ambassador, a cultural affairs officer with a penchant for cinema, and Yusuf’s playboy-turned-traditionalist older brother, Bobby has his work cut out for him. Stuck in the middle, he’s forced to balance his duties, his loyalties and his conscience as he navigates the dangers of a Middle-Eastern election rife with double-dealing and assassination attempts. The setting works brilliantly for Perlstein to show how ridiculously volatile the region can be, as he takes well-aimed shots at capitalism gone too far, gulf politics, forced democracy and anti-Semitism (to name just a few). It’s satire at its finest—laughing until the sobering moment of realization that the events in Moq’tar aren’t as fictional as you’d hope. To his credit, Perlstein never crosses the line into offensiveness, despite the numerous hot topics and cultures in his sights. And although he tends to dump characterization on the reader, that’s hardly a bother since each one is compelling. Best of all, the novel isn’t written just for scholars of the region; the plot is packed full of car chases and plot twists that keep the tension high and the pace fast. Those looking for subtle humor will find plenty, but those interested in action and intrigue alone won’t be disappointed either.
What else is there to say? It’s slick.