Funny and glum, neglected yet self-serving, Sanskrit Aaron Zuckerman (“that’s my name, in all its confusing glory”) trudges through junior year with a large, stupid lie on his shoulders.
Sanskrit’s accustomed to his mother’s emotional absence; she’s preoccupied with yoga and named him after the ancient Indian language, revealing hippie leanings that match neither his lethargic atheism nor his school’s Modern Orthodox Judaism. When Mom garners schoolwide attention by missing a parent-teacher conference, Sanskrit announces she’s been in a near-fatal accident. The outpouring of sympathy, especially from a girl he’s adored since age 7, is like manna. Judi spurned him in second grade, and he’s still obsessed with that rejection. His parents are divorced, inattentive and flaky; old friend Herschel is more religious and moral than Sanskrit can bear; and Sanskrit’s late, Holocaust-survivor grandfather left him funding for Jewish education only (otherwise the money goes to Tay-Sachs research), forcing Sanskrit into Jewish school. His loneliness and his anxiety about the pressures attendant on being the descendent of a survivor are understandable, and sometimes he’s hilarious (“Can breasts look disappointed?”), but his self-centeredness is repugnant (in addition to the lie, he bets on teachers’ heart attacks). India is used for “exotic” textual flavor with a reductionist American slant: Chai, for instance, is “the taste of India.”
Two reveals plus the lie’s exposure surprisingly lead to relief for Sanskrit’s soul; hopefully moral growth follows. (Fiction. 12-16)