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GREAT NECK by Jay Cantor

GREAT NECK

By Jay Cantor

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41394-4
Publisher: Knopf

A subparticle look at privileged Long Island Jewish kids who manage to zap themselves to all the right places at all the right times for a comprehensive pseudohistory.

What can possibly be the response of a gang of Jewish Great Neck suburban rats—as drawn to comic books as to The Four Quartets—to the madness of the 1960s? A bout of pneumonia and some timely psychoanalysis for Billy Green serves as the trigger for his starting a comic book that’s honed by the conscience of the Talmud and eventually comes to define these kids’ understanding of their place in the mayhem of America’s most colorful decade. At first, they just wait patiently for their various bat mitzvahs and long to go to each other’s brisses. When a rabbi warns that Jews “leave us. They go into politics. They embrace millennial movements—like communism, like the civil rights movement—chimeras that promise justice for all,” might he be referring to Billy and his gang of semiadult superheroes? The characters in his comics, with their real-life inspirations, are called things like Jeffrey the Sophist, SheWolf, and Ninja B in a tone that’s one of high art meeting low art and finally the police report—though it’s long ago that the gang was busted for whatever violence the plot is eventually going to embrace. It’s simple enough—the death of a pal sends the group headlong into the fray—and from there it’s a tour of the familiar ’60s: Medgar Evers, Dr. King, Cassius Clay, JFK, My Lai, Andy Warhol, the Democratic Convention. Meanwhile, as third-novelist Cantor (Krazy Kat, not reviewed) indulges perhaps a bit too frequently the comic motif, we get lots of sentences like “SheWolf, confused—perhaps even tempted for a moment—looks toward Athena X.”

Comprehensive and amusing. At 13 years in the making, should we be surprised that it’s too long?