Friday, October 12, 2012

Where's Booker?: Edward Reviews This Debut Novel/Memoir From Yuvi Zalkow

When Yuvi's wife finds him in his underwear, standing on top of his desk, she isn't particularly impressed with his writing habits.

But Yuvi worries. He has a wife who wants things he can’t give her, an editor who wants a book he can’t deliver, a brother-in-law whose gastrointestinal disease may lead him to a morbid end, and dead parents who, well, they don't really want anything, but that doesn't stop the memory of them from haunting him.

As the structure of Yuvi's novel falls apart, so do his life and marriage. His novel and his life blend together as he struggles to pull out of the mess, traveling from his suburban Jewish home in Atlanta to the North Carolina mountains of his father's childhood, to several hospital waiting rooms, to the living room of a grieving Palestinian man, and even to Uranus (and back, of course).

Heartbreaking and hilarious, A Brilliant Novel in the Works is the utterly original debut novel from Yuvi Zalkow, praised by Cheryl Strayed as “the secret love child of the smartest person you’ve ever met and the weirdo who lives down the block.”

Edward says: 
"In Yuvi Zalkow’s first novel, A Brilliant Novel in the Works, Yuvi, the main character, lives in Seattle with his wife, Julia, and is close to his brother-in-law, Joel (nicknamed Shmendrick, Shmen for short), his girlfriend, Ally, and her eight year old daughter, Maddy, from a previous marriage.   Shmen struggles with complications from a bowel disease resulting in a healthy dose of poop humor among the family, much to Ally’s chagrin.  Yuvi, born in Israel and raised in Atlanta, is struggling to finish his novel while being pressured to start a family of his own by Julia.  He lends money to Shmen without Julia knowing it, just one of Yuvi’s secrets.  Besides being close to Shmen who spends time in and out of the hospital for various tests and treatments, Yuvi dwells on a traumatic childhood incident with his father which has had far reaching effects.

Yuvi has three times the number of therapists as lovers, once created a sign language with a childhood friend, Ezra, to be able to communicate about the only two girls at his Hebrew school, and finds any excuse to not write on his novel, frustrating his editor and loved ones.  He receives the suggestion from several people to throw a death in his book.  He struggles with his Judaism and in a poignant scene, his father explains to him that whether he does or does not want to be Jewish, what will never change is the fact that he is.

Julia eventually finds their somewhat dysfunctional sexual life and Yuvi’s resistance to starting a family too much to endure and leaves Yuvi.  Shmen tells him not to worry, that he’ll find an excuse to bring them back together.  In the meantime, Ally invites Yuvi to visit her horses for equine healing.  Even though the scene takes an odd turn, it shows the deep concern that all of the characters have for each other’s happiness.   There are several lovely scenes with Yuvi and Julia’s daughter, Maddy, who offers what you would expect from any eight year old, a sense of wonder and innocence in an otherwise difficult world.

In an interesting coincidence, I am also reading Exit Ghost, by Philip Roth, whose main character, Zuckerman, struggles with prostate issues, much like Yuvi’s father and the father of Yousef, a Palestinian man, who Yuvi meets during one of Schmen’s hospital visits.

These short chapters resemble short essays and stories about his therapists and family members, something Yuvi’s own editor argues does not make up a novel.  There is even a brief foray into science fiction (a la Vonnegut), but in the end, Yuvi brings all of the pieces together into a cohesive work.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy Philip Roth, Chuck Palahniuk, or Kurt Vonnegut as Yuvi Zalkow balances a dark humor with enough levity to not lose the reader completely in an otherwise heart wrenching story.

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