Zeller, Dov. “Itche & Ari”, Tiny Golem, 2016.
Making a Choice
Ari Wexler is a trans guy in his late twenties who barely making it financially. Music has always been his pleasure as well as his meal ticket but these days his band practically has to pay to play a gig. As if that is not enough, Ari works at a clerk a music library but now that his beloved boss and friend has left, it has become unbearable. Then there is his love (or perhaps better said, his lack of love life) has caused him to considering just doing away with romance. He does however have a best friend, , Itche Mattes and the two of them have always managed to survive rough periods in the past. Now Together they’ve gotten through hard times before. Ari has begun to think that perhaps their friendship could just be a sign that they were meant to live together “happily ever after.” That thought evaporated soon enough when a famous actress comes to town and swept Itche off his feet and causing their relationship to cool off and Ari to despair. Then when an interesting music project becomes available to him, Ari has to decide if he should take the risk and leave what he knows and perhaps find what he is looking for.
I detected shades of Jane Austen here (yes men read Austen too) and the reader finds himself guessing how this will turn out. There is a good deal here about friendship and love and the definitions of those terms. There is also great dialogue and a lot of humor.
Itche and Ari are New Yorkers who first met at Jewish summer camp when they were young. They have been best friends a each seems to understand the other in ways that no one else can. Ari is isn’t completely accepted by his family, a fate that many transgender people have to deal with and Itche has dreams of wooing a Jewish Hollywood actress who accepts her Judaism and has ties to the Jewish community. Writer Dov Zeller also includes a good deal about the Jewish community (so you see I am not the only person who includes Judaism into whatever I write).
We read about love in its many faces and aspects and as we do, we realize that we are getting close to the characters and having a very fun read. Zeller has created an unforgettable character in Ari and for me, at least, it was very special as I have a transgender nephew and have heard similar stories although not related as eloquently as here. I also love how LGBT sexuality, friendship and romance take center stage. As most of you know, I read a lot but I must say that it has been a while since I have read anything as fresh as this. I did not want it to end but there is good news in that Zeller has two new books coming out soon.
Like Austen, Zeller looks at the human condition as it operates with a wave to Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig and to Jewish history. There is something very Jewish here and Jewish readers will realize it immediately. That doesn’t mean that non-Jewish readers will not enjoy the read; they just might miss some on the cheekiness for lack of a batter word). There is even Jewishness in the sexuality here. Like I said the wit and humor or great, the prose is excellent and even the surprise footnotes are fun. I just wonder why I have not heard of Dov Zeller before (especially since we both live in Massachusetts).