three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-Foreskins LamentShalom Auslander was raised in a strict Orthodox community in Monsey, New York, by an abusive father and a bitter mother. As a child, Auslander wrestled with the idea of a scheming, vengeful God as he simultaneously participated in "blessing bees" (reciting the proper prayer for various foods) and bucked the Torah's commandments by caving in to Slim Jims, pornography, and shoplifting. After being carted off to reform school in Israel, alienating himself from his community, and returning to marry an Orthodox woman, his struggles with God culminated in the decision of whether or not to circumcise his newborn. "My relationship with God," Auslander concludes, "has been an endless cycle not of the celebrated 'faith followed by doubt,' but of appeasement followed by revolt; [and] placation followed by indifference."
Riverhead. 320 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1594489556

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[As a Catholic] I, too, wondered when God would strike me down for sneaking to McDonald's on a Lenten Friday or for breezing into church merely to grab a bulletin, proof for the parents that I'd attended Mass when I'd actually spent the hour riding my bike. ... Auslander's work is funny and angry, and it shows a real struggle with the notion of living right and the inner debate over what 'right' is." Michael K. McIntyre

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Writing with humor and bitter irony about the most personal subjects, with deep, real-world consequences, is no task for an acolyte, although many have tried. With his middle finger pointed at the heavens and a hand held over his heart, Auslander gives us Foreskin's Lament. Mazel tov to him." Benjamin Anastas

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Auslander never uses his laserlike insight to show how he and his wife have carved out a sane life. ... This is a worthy, and for the author, necessary exorcism of his tortured relationship to his God and family." Rodney Price

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The yeshiva scenes (especially the 'blessing bee,' a religious contest where 8-year-old Shalom loses on how to properly sanctify ice cream in a sugar cone) are one chiseled comedic gem after another. Auslander means them to be both funny and abhorrent, but after a half dozen, the shock becomes expected and the laughs too big to mitigate." Kevin Smokler

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"This is an abstract of what follows: an acquaintance with the intellectual issues at hand; an easy familiarity with pornography; a flat admission of his fearful proximity to the divine antagonist; and the tense rictus of a flip punch line. ... When Auslander manages to make his emotional and his comedic content cohere, he achieves moments of true wit." Gideon Lewis-Kraus

Critical Summary

Shalom Auslander, author of Beware of God: Stories (2005) and a contributor to This American Life, reveals his ambivalence about God through fear, black humor, and undirected anger. If Foreskin's Lament sounds like a terrible rage against God, it is, in parts, but it coalesces into a fascinating reflection on the role of faith and ritual in modern life. Most reviewers found Auslander's stories about his tormented life refreshing, moving, and humorous-for example, the story of his father building an ark for the synagogue, only to be ostracized, struck a high note. However, a few criticized Auslander's tendency to mask real anger and deep questions with comedy. Beneath the humor, however, lies a reflective memoir on religion's powerful hold-and why, sometimes, it's so hard to shake it off.