A rabbinical school dropout’s quarter-life passage is trip-wired with bombastic Boomers—in Naked City columnist Sohn’s overwrought second (after Run Catch Kiss, 1999).
Rachel decides to abort her career as a rabbi when a sick man she’s consoling dies critiquing her bedside manner. From there, it’s on to a new calling as bartender to a south Brooklyn gaggle of soulful misfits. Rachel’s lust life picks up when an actor friend introduces her to 48-and-holding cult filmmaker-turned-navel-gazing playwright Hank Powell. Although a super-goy, Hank could be Noel Airman to Rachel’s Marjorie Morningstar, except that Rach is no innocent and Hank’s only visible dramatic talent is crafting sexual scenarios. Perhaps our first-person protagonist should be excused for not noticing right away that Hank is a narcisso-sadist who wants only an inflatable doll, not a human, for a mate. After all, she must expend a considerable amount of energy peppering every page with double-entendres, wisecracks, and bons mots that often land with a thud (“She was the stink bomb of sex bombs”). Arguably worse, the Rachster’s mother has segued from consciousness-raising to menopause support groups seemingly overnight, and her 55-year-old father is doing the horizontal mambo with Rachel’s upstairs neighbor and former friend Liz. Rachel’s Oedipal dilemma is underscored when she has to decide whether or not to tell her mother (who must have missed American Beauty) why her paunchy unemployed father is suddenly doing sit-ups. Sohn’s Cobble Hill is so small an enclave that Rach can walk to her dress-to-order assignations with Hank and right into his boiler/bondage room—so insular a neighborhood, in fact, that the plot is powered largely by chance encounters, making the reader, along with Rachel, yearn to take the action off-borough. Slutwear, sex act-ronyms, and Boomer-bashing abound until Rachel wises up, Mom gets her power surge, and Dad’s comeuppance/epiphany narrowly escapes being an “Aw-w-w” ending.
Arch, wry, and quip-ready characters can’t pump up a flaccid tale.