Jonathan Blum’s novella, Last Word, is a humorous yet serious story about a Jewish parent struggling to connect with and understand his teenage son, who is obsessed with computers. The administration at Eric’s Jewish day school ends up blaming him for several computer-hacking incidents, which result in many unpleasant meetings involving the school’s staff, parents of the community, and Eric’s family. Sometimes the truth of the situation is difficult to determine because Eric rarely asserts his own claims. The reader is often unable to decode Eric’s thoughts; he tends to mumble, use short phrases, and let other people talk for him.
Eric’s father is somewhat ignorant of his son’s activities despite efforts to check on his son, causing the reader to think about how well parents can really know their children. Blum writes from Eric’s father’s perspective in a casual, conversational tone that is mimicked in the relationship between Eric and his father. Eric’s father sometimes tries too hard to be a jokester and to be liked by his son to notice when Eric really needs his father to be a good parent who will listen and offer practical advice. Eric’s father has good intentions though, and the reader begins to understand his point of view, even at times when his decisions seem flawed, which creates complexity and empathy for his character.
While the book focuses on the parenting of Eric and the unfortunate situations he has found himself in at his school, Blum also provides an insider’s perspective of a tight-knit, somewhat invasive Jewish day school community where everyone cares about Jewish education and everyone is also in everyone else’s business. Last Word makes the reader really think about who is innocent and how one event leads to another. Despite this book’s brevity, Blum is able to create a multi-dimensional family and community that come to life on the page. This book focuses on an emotionally charged and complex situation highly relevant to twenty-first century digital concerns, teenage bullying, and the parenting skills needed to help teens navigate this confusing time.
Jamie Wendt is the author of the poetry collection Fruit of the Earth, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) and winner of the 2019 National Federation of Press Women Book Award. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, Lilith, Raleigh Review, Minerva Rising, Third Wednesday, and Saranac Review. Her essays and book reviews have been published in Green Mountains Review, the Forward, Literary Mama, and others. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She teaches high school English and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.