THE GREAT LETTER E by Sandra Schor


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This accomplished first novel not only integrates complex ideas about Spinoza and optics into a contemporary narrative told by a hapless Jewish New Yorker, but it also skillfully embodies--in an otherwise ordinary plot--some extraordinary philosophical concerns. Barry Glassman, a lowly optometrist from the Bronx, wants to understand vision in both literal and figural terms. Drunk on God-talk, and obsessed with the heretical philosopher/lens-grinder Spinoza, Glassman neglects his worldly affairs. His Manhattan store has been in decline ever since his wife, Marilyn, quit working there to work for her new lover, Bob Donahue, Glassman's lifelong friend and a much more successful optometrist. No one in Bayside, where Glassman now lives, has time for his theoretical musings. Not his son, Michael, a 13-year-old bar mitzvah boy who drifts toward religious orthodoxy as he longs for his parents' reunion. Not Rabbi Mayberg, whose frustration with Glassman's belligerence ends with a hard right to the jaw. And certainly not Dolores Gutman, the tan and svelte housewife who speaks for the congregation when she demands Glassman's withdrawal. When Glassman hits bottom, living in the dank basement of the family house, cultivating a case of pneumonia, he moves out and finds some kindred spirits who help him refine his inchoate sense of the visionary and the rational. He rents a room from the similarly introspective, and literally blind, Bernard Messenger, whose insight draws Glassman out of himself, even as the two compete for the sultry Enid, Barry's cousin, a brilliant physicist who shares Glassman's bed as well as his interest in refraction. Against these struggles between faith and doubt, reason and emotion, science and religion, all kinds of events play themselves out--with death and the urge to generate playing major roles. Though little resolves itself in dramatic terms, Glassman's narcissism, disguised by his lofty thinking, transforms itself into genuine truth-seeking. With endless opportunities for familia shtick, Schor instead expands the possibilities for modern Jewish fiction, and she does so in a sure and winning voice.

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 1989
Publisher: North Point