DiaTribe: Size Matters For Well-Meaning, But Trite “Tall Jew”

Some people are convinced that size is everything.
Speaking from personal experience, if you don’t know what to do with your piece, or can’t use it to create something new, well, than what you got ain’t worth a damned thing.
I am, of course, speaking of Dennis Danziger’s sweetly funny, poignant, but dreadfully overlong A Short History of a Tall Jew, (Deal Street Press: Feb. 8, 2010, release; priced around $20), which Deal Street Press was kind enough to throw our way.
The book is narrated by its titular character, Philip Lachman, a 6’2″ Jewish divorcé, searching for a new wife, a year from when the novel begins, on Valentine’s Day. His purpose: To give his daughter, an aspiring queen of an oil-rich country, and his pothead, slacker, communism-obsessed, snot-nosed son, a “normal” family.
If that isn’t enough, Lachman has an evil queen of his own to contend with: His bitter, raging-alcoholic of an ex-wife.
As is the case, in these types of difficult, broken-home situations, there’s a war going on, as the latter tries to fight for sole custodial rights on their kids. In most cases, it would be a no-brainer: The dude would win—hands down—but his ex has a lawyer that seems to have walked right out of The Devil Wears Prada.
Philip is taking the case sans lawyer.
This leads me to my problems with the book.
First of all, Danziger doesn’t seem to know how to write his character. Are we supposed to see Philip Lachman as a noble, kind-hearted family man, or should we look at him as a prissy (his neighbor—while a little on the hot-to-trot side, practically throwing herself at him, only to be turned down, time and time again—seems like a perfect, sexy romantic foil for him), pathetic, creepy (he gets his high school students to be pen pals with students at an elementary school, just to get a date with their teacher!) loser?
It’s hard to root for a character that doesn’t seem to really know what he wants, putting his kids in the middle of it all and using poor, single women (some with children, which makes it even more despicable) as stepping stones in achieving his goal, which is finding a wife.
To make matters worse, the women in the book are so thinly drawn (they’re either portrayed as J.A.P.s, man-eating bitches, or wounded single mothers) that, as a reader, I began to stop caring about the protagonists mission. The only female characters that resonated were the horny neighbor and Lachman’s daughter, Lily, a wise-cracking teen who wants to have a family for the right reasons: She’s a kid looking for a positive adult female figure in her life.
It’s this father-daughter dynamic that gives the novel some emotional heft, preventing it from completely becoming a cartoon.
Look, I’m all for books about family values and the desperate acts characters take to keep a family together, but, despite some witty lines and the character’s religion, there’s a staleness to the proceedings, in that we’ve seen this all before. It’s as if the author decided to pick and choose different aspects of classic books or movies: The custody/courtroom battle in Kramer vs. Kramer, the romance-peddling child in Sleepless in Seattle, and the woes of divorced, single dads in (G-d, help me for giving this bland-as-hell movie any mention) Bye Bye Love!
The book is well-meaning, to be sure, but you know what they say about the road to hell.
Well, okay, I’ll take that last part back: picking up this overlong novel up is certainly nowhere near the equivalent of literary hell.
After all, Jews don’t believe in hell. Maybe “literary purgatory” would be more appropriate.
Hell, even a Jew—short or tall—can buy that!