A family man suffers from money woes, a judgmental spouse and a hectoring mother. But things don’t get really funny until he discovers Anne Frank living in his attic.
Auslander’s debut novel is a scalding, uproarious satire that rejects the idea that the Holocaust can’t be mined for comedy—he just knows that a book has to be very good to pull it off. The story’s hero is Solomon Kugel, an eco-friendly–goods salesman who’s moved his wife and toddler son to a rural Northeast town for some peace and quiet. No such luck: An arsonist is at large, the tenant they’ve taken on to help make ends meet won’t stop complaining and Kugel’s mother, supposedly at death’s door with a terminal illness, isn’t going anywhere. Indeed, she eagerly pursues her beloved hobby of imagining herself a Holocaust victim, slipping images of the death camps alongside family photos in scrapbooks. Investigating a tapping sound he hears in the ducts, Solomon discovers an elderly, sickly, foulmouthed Anne Frank living in his attic, working on a sequel to her famous diary. The metaphor is punishingly obvious: The Holocaust is an unshakable, guilt-inducing fixture in the life of any self-aware Jew, and living with its legacy can be a burden. What’s remarkable is how far Auslander (Beware of God, 2005, etc.) is willing to push the metaphor and how much pathos he gets from the comedy. Lampshades, grim historical photographs and Alan Dershowitz are all the stuff of laugh-out-loud lines, and Solomon’s therapist delivers statements that turn received wisdom on its head—Utopia is dystopia, hope is tragic. Auslander’s pithy, fast-moving prose emphasizes the comedy, but no attentive reader will misunderstand that he’s respectful of the Holocaust’s tragedy, only struggling to figure out how to live in its shadow.
Brutal, irreverent and very funny. An honest-to-goodness heir to Portnoy’s Complaint.