Detroit Jewish accountant Leonard Borman’s first foray into fiction writing, Our Jewish Robot Future (Scarletta Press: November 1, 2010 release, $14.95, also on Amazon), really made me wish he’d stuck with accounting. I promise I would be happy to read any accounting textbook he’d like to throw my way. This, however, is not an accounting textbook. And for the first time in my life, I almost wish it had been.
The book is subtitled “A Novel about the Garden of Eden and the Cyborgian Transformation of the Human Race.” Boy, how I wish that’s what it was about. You see, the concept of this book is great. Terrific. Has tons of potential. Unfortunately, saying that’s what this book is about is a bit like saying Gone With The Wind is about the Civil War. Well, yeah, sort of. But that’s not what you’re really reading about.
The problems with this book start with its basic narrative structure. The book is essentially structured as a single long story, told by the narrator in the future, describing a series of incidents occurring in her past – but the reader’s present – during which she tells a whole lot of other people about her husband’s trip in his past into the even more distant future, all while regularly interrupting her basic narrative with various thoughts, random asides, and complaints about her children. Everybody got that? So at any given moment, the narrator, in the near future, could be telling a story about her past, during which her husband is telling someone else about his even-further past trip into the even more distant future. This is also known as a grammar teacher’s nightmare. You may want to preemptively take your migraine pills.
But I could have lived with the structure. After all, that’s not so unusual. I’ve seen worse. The real problem lies in that narrator I mentioned. You see, the person who single-handedly tells the entire story is the single worst stereotype of a middle-aged Jewish yenta imaginable! Just so I’m clear – the entire story is told by her, from her point of view. I don’t just mean that we get to see events as they happen to her. I mean that we get to hear a complete, uninterrupted stream-of-consciousness of her thoughts and her descriptions of events. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Mr. Borman has never actually met a single woman, Jewish or otherwise. One of the crucial gifts of an author is to be able to get into a character’s mind, and write a believable voice for them. In this case, let me just tell you, authoritatively, that there are no women who even think, let alone talk, like that.
I don’t know if this is some man’s fantasy of how women might think. I suppose it could work as an ironic, tongue-in-cheek, feminist critique of the stereotyping of Jewish women. But it sure doesn’t read like that. It reads as a dreadful, annoying, shallow, critical, whiny, self-absorbed busybody, who cannot shut up, but only manages thoughts that are completely inane. But all that would be OK, if only she was believable. Some authors purposely write believable villains, and that’s OK. Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert was a man purposely written to be thoroughly unpleasant to the reader. But Mr. Borman is no Nabokov. And this narrator was not purposely written to be disliked. She was also not written to be a believable woman, Jewish or otherwise. There are simply no women who talk or think like this. Period.
Lest I leave you with the sense that this book is wholly without redeeming value, let me clarify. There are actually some quite wonderful, very interesting ideas buried within the narrative. Unusual, interesting, extremely original perspectives on the Garden of Eden, on Genesis, on the Ten Commandments, on Adam and Eve. Had it only stuck to those themes, and those original ideas, this could have been a terrific, thought-provoking book, making the reader wrestle with these themes, and with these quite novel ways of looking at what is to many quite mundane and familiar stuff from Hebrew school. Instead, it leaves the reader gnashing their teeth at their annoyance with the narrator. It’s a bit like nails on a chalkboard with the theory of relativity written on it. Few of us could focus on the formulas.
To be fair, if you are looking for a light, brainless, easy read for your next beach vacation, and happen to be amused, rather than driven bonkers, by crazed Jewish yentas – this may entertain you. In fact, though this is a funny novel, it is a bit reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, with its non-linear, crazy-timeline narrative, and annoying, unpleasant, unreliable narrator. But unless you’re a real light-hearted Vonnegut fan, I suggest you save the $15, and buy some other light beach novel.
And just in case someone who isn’t Jewish is reading this – please do me a personal favor, and do not read this book. I would really rather no non-Jews were exposed to this kind of vile Jewish stereotype. I would really hate for anyone to further the spreading of these kinds of stereotypes about us.
Now all I want to know is whether I can deduct the time I spent reading this book as a total loss?
FCC Disclosure: I received a preview copy of this book for free from the publisher. As you can see, that did not prevent me from publishing my opinion. I guess that’s the end of free books for me…
[Image: Scarletta Press]