Paradise, New York CL

Eileen Pollack, Author
Eileen Pollack, Author Temple University Press $62.5 (264p) ISBN 978-1-56639-657-8
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Known for her witty stories (The Rabbi in the Attic and Other Stories), Pollack's first novel recounts the coming-of-age of assertive 19-year-old Lucy Appelbaum, who drops out of college to run her parents' decaying Borscht Belt hotel in the Catskills and falls in love with the hotel's African American handyman, proud, fastidious Thomas Jefferson. Though warmly observed, the novel is a disappointment, a well-intentioned but inert multicultural extravaganza in which the characters are mere props for Pollack to explore her abiding themes: the search for Jewish identity, the rift between generations, tolerance, the Holocaust. Jefferson--who reads Spinoza and Confucius, translates psalms from Hebrew and debates Talmud with Nazi death-camp survivor Shirley Feidel--is a saintly figure. After Lucy's racist grandmother forces him out of the Eden Hotel, he buys a nearby bungalow colony with the goal of transforming it into a new Monticello, repository of the wisdom of the world's great philosophers and mystics. Into the ethnic, religious and sexual melting pot Pollack throws a fraudulent Hasid; a gay chef and his lover who are into gourmet Jewish cooking; an evil homophobic twin; a cell of elderly Communists who incite the hotel's Puerto Rican and Vietnamese employees to picket; Lucy's assimilated brother, who's afraid of looking ""too Jewish""; the brother's irascible Quaker wife; and a slick Irish-Catholic insurance adjuster who has sex with Lucy in a linen closet. Although Lucy's concern for the family business gives the novel moving passages, the rest is an unholy goulash of good intentions gone awry. (Dec.)
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