Good For the Jews

  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

This is the sto­ry of a small group of char­ac­ters in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin whose lives are inter­twined through work, fam­i­ly, and roman­tic asso­ci­a­tions. The main char­ac­ters are loose­ly based on bib­li­cal fig­ures from the Sto­ry of Esther. Ellen” is Esther,” an orphan who lost her par­ents and is fos­tered by her cousin Mose”/“Mordechai”. Alex” is the super­in­ten­dent for schools and is the stand-in for King Aha­suerus.” He was for­mer­ly mar­ried to Valerie” (“Vashti”), direc­tor of Madison’s Cen­ter for Artis­tic Exchange, but becomes involved with Ellen, who works in day­care. Hyman,” the new school prin­ci­pal is Haman” and an anti-Semi­te who plots the removal of Mose, Amer­i­can His­to­ry teacher at the pro­gres­sive school for at-risk children. 

This fast paced, con­tem­po­rary tale demon­strates how each character’s ear­ly his­to­ry informs who they are, how they view the world, and how they respond and inter­act with oth­ers. And though Spark vivid­ly reveals the dele­te­ri­ous and dev­as­tat­ing effects that inter­per­son­al rela­tions can cre­ate, in delin­eat­ing each person’s past she almost seems apolo­getic for indi­vid­ual short­com­ings. As she con­cludes: So, what of it?… Ellen didn’t know, though at moments she imag­ined her­self and the oth­ers as hap­less actors, unwit­ting­ly cast in some bib­li­cal sto­ry, where being right meant being reward­ed and being reward­ed meant demol­ish­ing your enemy.

Karen J. Hauser received a B.A. in art his­to­ry from Stan­ford. She has worked at var­i­ous muse­ums and at Sothe­by’s and cur­rent­ly does com­mu­nal vol­un­teer work.

Discussion Questions