diaTribe Review: Peep Show Draws In, But Does It Delight?

I wish I could approach a novel the same way I approach my yoga mat – with my mind clear of any expectations of what will come. But I haven’t been practicing yoga long enough for any of the lessons to actually follow me outside of the studio. And I’ve always been that girl who judges a book by its cover. So when I picked up Peep Show (Algonquin Books; June 2010; Trade Paperback Original; $13.95) and saw a spot-varnished photo popping off the sexy red page, I figured I was in for a quick, satisfying summer read. And that’s what I got. Sort of.
From the first chapter, it was clear that Peep Show would be a quick read. Braff wastes no time jumping into the conflict surrounding seventeen-year-old narrator David Arbus as he negotiates his way between his divorced parents: Mickey/Miriam, his newly Orthodox mother who’s desperately trying to erase her past, and his father Martin who runs an adult theater. It was immediately obvious that David will be forced to choose between their two worlds.  And that I was in for a good story.
But I wasn’t ready for the gritty reality that Braff presents. Or the feeling that I, too, was a voyeur as I observed the peep show patrons or watched David peeking through the mechitzah to chat with his sister. I certainly wasn’t prepared to share David’s disgust as he reluctantly photographs an orgy. And while I knew that I was supposed to feel as uncomfortable as David did catching glimpses of his mother’s closed-off Hasidic world, I found myself a bit relieved to find fully-clothed characters and a break from imagining the “nauseating smell of men’s ass sweat.”
The parallels that Braff draws between the two worlds heighten the difficult choice that David wrestles with. Neither world is perfect. Neither parent is completely right. And David, struggling to find his own way, is clearly supposed to choose one over the other. But he resists both, finding a place in photography instead – where he can be a perpetual observer. Laura Hodes, in her Forward review, writes that “photography, for David, has been a crutch — the only way he can see the world around him — and it also becomes a way out, a way for him to become a man. He has managed to use photography to navigate both parents’ worlds without getting subsumed by either.”
Like any truly good coming-of-age story, Peep Show left me with a feeling that David made it out but not without some scars. There is no tidy happy ending. Just a sense that the world moves on.
A little less basil-lemonade-on-the-porch and a little more hot-cider-on-a-rainy-Sunday than I was anticipating, but Peep Show was a pretty decent read. And coming from me, “pretty decent” is a mark of praise. Will I read it again? Probably not. But I’d pass you my copy so that we could chat about it over a glass of wine.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of the book in the hope that I would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. I wouldn’t recommend anything that I don’t think you’d enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…