A pleasant if insubstantial rags-to-yuppiedom saga.
Robert Vishniak isn’t quite the dictionary-definition aspirational young lad of many a Great Jewish Novel, but neither is he a shlimazel Alvy Singer type. In the opening pages of Pomerantz’s debut, we find him in the fraught milieu of Northeast Philadelphia, with “miles and miles of Jews, families of four, five, and more packed into long, solid brick rows,” an Italian or two thrown in for variety. Having moved in after years with the in-laws, Stacia Vishniak is keenly aware of expenses social as well as fiscal, and she “believed that hearing what things cost was good for children, like castor oil.” She’s right, though not without qualification. The years roll by, years of dogged competition with richer cousins, surviving first crushes and engineering furtive grasps and glimpses, and Robert finds himself paying attention to numbers, particularly the lottery number that will send him either to Vietnam or to Greenwich Village. The ’70s turn into the ’80s, hippies devolve into yuppies, and Robert suddenly has everything he ever wanted and more, which is never enough. Greed may have clarified things for Gordon Gekko, but it just makes Robert pensive, Patek Philippe watch and all (“waterproof, and platinum, with a large blue face”). What goes up must come down, of course, as Robert and his more ambitious brother Barry discover come that bad stock-market day of 1987—upon which, bless her heart, the much-put-upon Stacia, always an anchor and moral center, has the last laugh, for while all around her have been flying high, she’s been doing the sensible, boring things that keep civilization chugging along.
Pomerantz’s tale could use a car chase or an explosion, something to relieve its earnestness. The proceedings lack the pointed humor of a Joshua Then and Now or the pointed ironies of a Gatsby, but the tale is competent and readable all the same.