Email this review


Scarifyingly funny debut limns a suburban boy's struggle to cope with the Jewish Father from Hell.

The ghastly housewarming party he throws when they move to Piedmont, New Jersey, in 1977 tells us almost everything we need to know about Abe Green in the nine opening pages. He’s overbearing, he’s needy, and he flashes his family's accomplishments as if they were credentials. (Jacob “reads Hebrew so beautifully it'll make you cry,” Dara “swims like a fish . . . always top three,” etc.) As Jacob narrates the story from his 10th to 15th years, we see the grim effects of Abe's compulsive personality. He’s an insane perfectionist; after Jacob’s bar mitzvah, the boy has to write 20 thank-yous a night, “each note will be individually checked for proper spelling, grammar, syntax, and word choice,” and when the poor kid falls short, Abe throws his usual screaming tantrum. He never actually hits anyone, but the verbal and psychological abuse are truly scary. Wife Claire finally has enough and moves out in 1981—of course, Abe demands joint custody. The author realistically shows Claire as a loving mother who nonetheless fails her children by being too occupied by her new marriage and career to fully protect them from Abe. Eldest son Asher simply defies Dad, but Jacob can’t so quickly reject a man whose love he feels even as it drives him to desperation. In the most brutally funny scene here, Abe “apologizes” for the thank-you card tantrum while driving Jacob to the hospital (he’s broken his wrist smashing a wall), then begins chattering about plans for an Annie Hall party while his white-lipped son counts the blocks to the ER. Though Jacob learns near story’s end he that can't depend on Asher to rescue him, there’s no real resolution in this primal scream ripped from adolescence: it’s just painfully honest and surprisingly compassionate.

Compulsively readable, in a horrifying sort of way. What will Braff do next now that he’s got that off his chest?

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2004
ISBN: 1-56512-420-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2004