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The Frozen Rabbi (2010)

by Steve Stern(Favorite Author)
3.09 of 5 Votes: 3
156512619X (ISBN13: 9781565126190)
Algonquin Books
review 1: I love everything I've read so far of Steve Stern. The idea of Jewish magical realism attracts me all by itself, but Stern's writing style is rich and smooth. Like his other stories and books The Frozen Rabbi was fun to read even when the narrative is kind of disturbing. For me the underlying theme is true believers. There are two narratives in alternating chapters of the book. One is the present time account of the teen who thaws out the wonder-working rabbi who has been kept frozen for over a century but comes to life when thawed out. His turning to become a kind of self-help cult leader with strong overtones of Sabbatianism (everything forbidden is now allowed) is about true belief - the 180 done by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish mystic alost makes sense.The other narra... moretive is the history of the family that preserves the frozen rabbi going from a shtetl to a large city to New York to Memphis (where much of Stern's fiction is set). The family suffers a good deal and part of that has to do with preserving that odd artifact. There is also an Israel part of the story, which is also about Zionism as a belief.The end is really unexpected. Following the novel there is an author's note and also discussion questions, which I think are basically tongue in cheek, especially the one about the end.
review 2: I feel ridiculous rating this lower than Tyra Banks' delightfully terrible novel. The Frozen Rabbi walks a fine line between literary aspiration and engaging plot, and I loooooooved most of it. Stern's writing voice is wonderful, the interlocking storylines are complex enough yet fit together cleanly, and it was often hilarious. Then the ending happened. Had I just skipped the last 40-50 pages, this book and I could've continued our affair indefinitely. Seriously, where was the editor? The tone changes abruptly, the story drags, characters quit acting like themselves and start acting spectacularly stupid. Even then, the good parts overwhelmed the mediocre, until the very final page. The awful ending brought my other irritation to a head: the female characters just aren't players. This novel absolutely doesn't pass the Bechdel movie test. Most authors struggle with the inner lives of their opposite-gendered characters, and often it's a failure that I can let slide. But the men here are so complex and human and lovable for their flaws, whereas the women are entirely defined by their male relationships. They are mothers, wives, or sisters, and they are all completely adrift when separated from their man. If he'd stuck with only giving us the perspectives of the men, it could have been okay, because then I could pretend that they had vast aspects of their lives that we just never saw. But no. They all willfully have their identities subsumed by a chosen man. Plus there are nearly as many dead mothers as in a Disney movie. The final thing that really pissed me off: at least three of the "main" (as in, appearing on more than two pages) women are victims of rape, and it isn't handled well at all, and those that willingly touch penises are slut shamed. Again, if all the men had such major sexual hangups this would bother me less, but several of the men are quite promiscuous.I don't want to sound overly negative. The good here does outweigh the bad. It's just that the good parts set the quality bar so incredibly high that the bad parts are extra disappointing. With a more critical editor this would have easily been my favorite book of the year so far. less
Reviews (see all)
Meh. It was like a hamburger. I liked the meat, but the bun was bland and unnecessary carbs.
Clever, entertaining and poignant. Perhaps an echo of my own family's as yet untold history.
well written and an interesting walk through history but very strange and very graphic.
Good read, but Lots of Jewish terms that made it heavy reading at times...
Tedious. Oh so tedious.
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