cover image Goyhood


Reuven Fenton. Central Avenue, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-771683-68-5

Adult brothers grapple with the revelation of a shocking family secret in the meandering fiction debut from journalist Fenton (Stolen Years). In the mid-1990s, rabbi Yossi Kugel arrives in Moab, Ga., to energize the town’s small Jewish population. Twelve-year-old twins Marty and David Belkin begin studying for their bar mitzvahs with the “gnome-bearded man in funeral garb,” who hires their mother Ida Mae as a secretary. Twenty years later, David lives a mostly secular life, while Marty, who’s changed his name to Mayer, is ensconced in a Brooklyn yeshiva and married to the devout Sarah. When Ida Mae dies, leaving behind a suicide note revealing that she’d lied about being Jewish, the brothers’ lives are upended. Estranged for years, they reunite for a road trip through the Deep South that’s described by a friend of David’s as a Jewish version of Rumspringa. There’s plenty of potential here: Fenton’s wry and ingratiating narration touches on rich themes of identity formation, belonging, and exclusion. Unfortunately, that promise is undercut by thinly developed characters whose dramatic inner transformations (such as Mayer’s quick turnaround from hyper-observant Torah scholar to seeker curious about the wider world) can feel unearned. This falls short of its intriguing premise. Agent: Murray Weiss, Catalyst Literary Management. (May)