cover image Shmutz


Felicia Berliner. Atria, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982177-62-1

Berliner’s memorable debut concerns a young Brooklyn Hasidic woman who becomes addicted to porn. Despite the community’s strict laws against the internet, Raizl, 18, receives a laptop as part of her accounting scholarship to Cohen College, and her naive initial Google searches quickly lead her to more explicit corners of the web. Each night, after her younger sister Gitti falls asleep, Raizl watches porn under the covers with the volume off. More transgressions follow, as she befriends a group of goth classmates and eats a bacon and egg roll from a street vendor. Meanwhile, Raizl endures a series of matchmaker-arranged “dates” with potential husbands. After two failed dates, Berliner writes, “the matchmaker must have smelled the fear on [Raizl’s] mother because the next boy she sends... is a clammy snail in a suit.” Meanwhile, Raizl’s porn addiction affects her grades; she stops sleeping, watching “video after video until morning,” and her attempts to quit prove unsuccessful. Berliner shines in her depictions of a deeply religious life, both in its inequities and its enchantments. If the plot is at times a bit sparse, the prose is inventive, notably in how it uses Raizl’s native Yiddish (and her application of it to porn) to great effect. This brave, eye-opening tale is full of surprises. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (July)