Bacharach, Joseph. “The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates: A Novel”, Liveright, 2017.
A Fable for Our Times
I imagine that by now everyone understands that our Biblical ancestors were indeed members of dysfunctional families and in many cases they were the cause of the dysfunction. Abraham leads the pack as an unworthy and unacceptable father figure but he is really all we have (or at least know about). We ask questions abut the patriarchs and the matriarchs and their offspring knowing that these are existential questions that cannot be answered. Now imagine taking those stories and those characters and taking them out of their Biblical locations and contexts and moving them to modern day Manhattan. Joseph Bacharach takes those wonderful Bible stories and moves the ancestors into the modern world which is about as crazy as Canaan, Ur, etc. were.
Isabel Giordani (now that is a Jewish name for you) runs away from New York City and a failed relationship and goes to Pittsburgh to take a job at a nonprofit (that is not doing well) Future Cities Institute and she pushes herself into the aimless lives of Isaac Mayer and his father, Abbie, an architect turned crooked real estate developer. We understand that Abbie says that he has had a vision that was unexpected but that he decided to pursue. This very vision gets Abbie’s family involved in the political and familial machinations of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. It is through this that writer Bacharach looks at those regular and troublesome themes of the perpetually fraught themes of love, family, God, and real estate (This is obviously not about that real estate spoken of in the Bible and for which we are looking for the deed). Now most of you have probably been able to guess where I am going with this and that it is sure to be irreverent. What you do not expect is the tenderness we find here and it surprised me too when I actually wept instead of blaspheming. This is a profane yet wise, funny yet tragic, sacred yet unholy look at who we are (and I loved it).
I love that we get all kinds of Jews (both straight and gay and maybe others as well) here and we meet Pennsylvania thugs (mostly straight) as we read of the aforementioned themes. Now I had to wonder how and why Abbie left Manhattan for Pittsburgh. It seems to have had something to do with Abbie’s wife, Sarah (notice the names) learning that her husband’s girlfriend was pregnant with his child. Sarah thought it would be good to get Abbie out of the city and move to Pittsburg near where his sister, Veronica lives. Abbie gets into the construction business and is soon working with shady characters on corrupt deals.
It was not until some 30 years later that Isobel comes to the area and she decides to look for Abbie after having been doing her own personal research on him for years. She works her way into the family through Isaac and we become aware that both Sarah and Abbie have secrets. (Now I ask you, what kind of Jew has secrets?).
Some may think this book to be strange; I found it lovingly weird and most of you know that I love my Bible stories. I enjoy satire and sarcasm when done correctly and while it does not always work here, it does most of the time. If we can have a little fun at the expense of religion than it is all good. It should be tasteful which it is not here but a could read, and this is, I can overlook mistakes and failure (although those are not the correct words). It is the originality and prose of the author that drew me in and after having read just one of his books, I am a fan. He manages to combine intellectuality, wit, lyricism, sarcasm and satire with his knowledge of the Bible to give us this read. I have read a lot of Biblical satires and so far the only that comes close to Bacharach is Edward Falzon. I am not here to advertise him but feel read to read my review of his book here.
This is not a book that everyone will like—it helps that the reader is also a bit weird but if you can let yourself go and read just for pleasure, I think you will understand what I have been trying to say.