Even though it was duly mentioned in a post written from a press release last January, I finally got around to actually reading The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff. (It had been waiting on my nightstand for months while I muddled through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a densely written tome about magic and fairies in 19th century England that has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism, but I’m diverse like that. Highly recommend that one.)
First off, Unthinkable Thoughts was not nearly the arduous read as the book that came before it, thank Hashem. In fact, the narrative was so fast, funny and fresh that I ate the whole thing in a day.
Second son Jacob Green begins his story as a New Jersey yeshiva boy overshadowed by his older brother’s charisma but not nearly hidden enough to escape their control-freak father’s wrath. Abram Green believes himself to be the life of the party, the guy everyone loves to kibbitz with, but his children understand him to be a maniacal narcissist of the greatest order. Jacob, who can’t seem to finish his bar mitzvah thank you notes but can read Torah like an angel, is tormented by his father for the former but used by him for the latter to assuage his ego “look at my son reading scripture! Aren’t I a wonderful Jew?”
Among the themes of coming-of-age and dysfunctional families, I found the one of “obligational Judaism” most fascinating. As someone who eagerly seeks out Jewish knowledge, the idea of having it shoved down one’s throat as a kid is horrifying. No wonder so many people who had religious upbringings completely turn away from their roots; the association of tyranny with Torah wouldn’t get me to synagogue after adulthood, either.
This isn’t the first Braff to write about a controlling father; Josh’s bro Zach cast Ian Holm as the psychiatrist who dopes his son to the gills to “save” him from the pain of paralyzing his mother in his movie Garden State. Brothers Braff swear up and down that neither father figure was autobiographical, but the similarities are there. I don’t know these boys, but if they were oppressed by their real dad, they certainly have their literary revenge.
Anyway, the best reason to read it is the dialogue yeshiva boys screaming “Jesus Christ” at each other is just the beginning.