Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Reveiw: Coney by Amram Ducovny

There’s a wonderful bookstore in downtown L.A. called The Last Bookstore.  It’s in a huge space, and the whole second floor is cheapskate bookworm heaven because everything up there is $1 (and in absolutely NO sort of order, no genre or alphabetical organization at all, just thousands of books stacked willy nilly on at least 4 rooms full of floor to ceiling shelves).  The first time I went there, I decided on just 3 books, a Billie Letts novel, the worst Anne Tyler novel I’ve ever read (Noah’s Compass, the only story of hers I haven’t loved), and Coney, a novel by Amram Ducovny.  This here paragraph is part autobiographical information (as per usual on this blog), part book review.  Coney is about a Jewish family in a very seedy Coney Island in the late 1930’s.  The book jacket calls this book “part noir thriller, part coming-of-age novel”, and I cannot fully agree with this, because the thriller genre uses tension and suspense, which the violent occurrences of this story lack; I feel like there’s no tense build-up to the crimes and deaths in this work, they just happen.  I have a weird relationship with Judaism.  My grandmother’s dad’s side are Eastern European Jews but her mother was English and non-Jewish I think (when I was talking to grandma the other day about how much of our family wants to claim jewishness all the time except her, she said “I’m always telling [uncle] Harry, ‘British, not Yiddish’--  she’s a devoted Anglophile).  My grandfather, on the other hand, is 100% eastern European Jew.  Both Grandma and grandpa are atheist intellectuals (unlike their brothers and sisters) and the only religion they raised their kids with was at the neighborhood Christian church they sent them packing to every Sunday so they could have a little quiet time.  This had the unexpected effect of turning two of their children into Christians (one is a minister!), but my uncle Harry is an atheist with an interest in his Jewish roots and my dad is an atheist with Buddhist leanings.  I do not like religion at all.  In fact, Christianity is my pet peeve, and Judaism is something I am fascinated with but when it comes down to it, it’s still a religion, so it’s still centered around exclusion and beliefs I could never swallow.  But I have always been very interested in Jewish culture:  the Maus graphic novels, Chaim Potok, Dorothy Parker, Maurice Sendak, Philip Roth, and other one-off novelists, as far as literature goes, and as for movies, I have long been a huge Woody Allen fan, and more recently (judge me if you must!) Adam Sandler too.  I’m interested in Jewish culture in general, like the strongly Jewish history of Atlantic City (where some of my family lived for awhile, my great-aunt and uncle who often lamented my non-Jewish ways in their top-decibel voices when I stayed with them once, and their Jewish/black grandson who lived with them and whose beautiful little boy was named Shalom.)  I also like to read non-fiction accounts of the Jewish experience during World War II.  But as I’ve been reminded by many a Jew, I am not at all Jewish, because my mom’s side are English and Italian Catholics, and Jewish heritage is matrilineal.  This is a little rule, or distinction, that really hurts my feelings – my grandpa’s relatives were in concentration camps, yet I can claim no Jewish roots because my mother isn’t Jewish?  Anyway, whether or not I’m technically entitled to it, I do have this interest in Jewish culture, and I also have a LOOOOOVE of Coney Island and related lore, so this novel was really up my alley.  There is a lot about the Yiddish language in this novel, as well, which has a fascinating history, but in general the story is too ugly to recommend.  Almost everyone besides the immediate family of the protagonist, 15 year old Heschel, and some of the sideshow freaks he befriends, is a horrible person, like an actual murderer or else someone who aids a murderer.  This sweeping evilness and murderousness is a little much.  Maybe it was realistic, though I doubt it, but even if so, it over-saturates the story.  Like, every time someone turns around, they’re getting killed or seriously injured.  So I can’t recommend this one.  It is so cool to read about old Coney Island though, and the last paragraph of the novel, which takes place in a concentration camp as it’s being liberated, is really touching, like SERIOUSLY.  You will cry.    

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