You think you already know Philip Lachman, the tall Jew whose short history author Dennis Danziger chronicles in his affable new novel. You’ve seen Lachman on a sitcom, certainly. He’s the Cosby-esque father figure whose kids seesaw between fighting him and loving him. He’s the Frazier-esque divorcé whose ex-wife is driving him insane. He’s the Seinfeld-esque bumbler who can’t get through a day without insulting someone. He’s the Kotter-esque English teacher who connects with his students and irritates the principal. Saddled with all of these attributes, it’s no wonder Lachman’s having a hard time of it. His prayers to God, each of which start “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Creator of it all,” and end something like, “let me win just one hearing in family court,” along with a declaration by chapter five that he’s going to find someone to marry within a year, seem like a setup for a perfect must-see-TV season. But just as you settle in, expecting the novel to take on a 23-minute plotline, Danziger does something unexpected. He deftly brings Lachman back from the sitcom abyss, and pulls off a compelling and surprisingly heartwarming work of fiction.
Juli Berwald Ph.D. is a science writer living in Austin, Texas and the author of Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. Her book on the future of coral will be published in 2021.