cover image Sweet Like Sugar

Sweet Like Sugar

Wayne Hoffman. Kensington, $15 trade paper (285p) ISBN 978-0-7582-6562-3

In Hoffman's solid second novel, after Hard, Benji Steiner is only moderately concerned with his Jewish faith until he meets Rabbi Jacob Zuckerman, an elderly man distraught over the death of his wife. Steiner starts to spend a lot of time with Zuckerman, who reconnects him to his Jewish identity and introduces him to the term bashert (soul mate; beloved). But when Steiner tells the rabbi that he's gay, Zuckerman retreats to religion: "The Torah says this is a grave sin.... You should find a wife and live properly." Steiner and the rabbi fall out, and Steiner flees to Florida, where he meets Irene, a woman who knew Zuckerman as a young man. Through Irene's lasting connection to the now ailing Zuckerman, Steiner learns a few things that help the two men make peace with themselves and each other. Hoffman's examination of the intersection between gay and Jewish identity raises potent questions about tolerance and understanding. Steiner is a familiar figure: a near-secular Jew with a more devout family struggling to negotiate his faith for himself. His conflict is personified well by Zuckerman, but their relationship, while believable, isn't enough to sustain the novel, and the difficult questions of identity resolve themselves a little too neatly. (Sept.)