Scapegoated by Jeff Oliver is a novel in a unique category: tongue-in-cheek with a dark sense of humor. In a slant of the Covid pandemic, the world in this novel is plagued by a fainting pandemic that is similar to fainting goat syndrome. The myotonic goat, or Tennessee fainting goat, is an American breed of goat that has a hereditary condition that causes it to stiffen up and fall over when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.
The illness turns out to affect all people except those of Jewish ancestry — a premise that invokes a history of antisemitism surrounding pandemics. Using tropes from the Holocaust and neo-Nazis, Oliver’s novel does not hold back.
The Schtinkler family plays the central role in Scapegoated. Sara is a behavioral scientist who has been studying the Tennessee fainting goats; and just as her funding is about to run out, the world is thrust into the pandemic. Sara then takes the lead in trying to solve the mystery and find a cure.
Sara and her family live in a New Jersey bedroom community of New York City. Her husband, Reuven, is a frustrated reality TV producer who has lost his way after being named Breakout Writer of his senior class at UBC Film School. Now he is worried that he may not get the promotion he feels he deserves. Their son Joshua is short and a late bloomer for a fifteen-year-old. He is bullied at school for looking more like a middle schooler than a teenager and for being Jewish.
But all that changes when the world confronts the fainting illness. Hospitals fill up as a result of people getting hurt when they faint. Soft helmets and padding are designed for protection and mandatory to wear. At first the Jews wear the helmets to try and blend in, but it quickly becomes apparent that such blending will not work.
Each of the Schtinklers reacts to this discovery in a different way. Sara is determined to help ameliorate the problem, confident that her years of research will pay off. Reuven, who suffered through a miserable childhood of discrimination for being Jewish, feels that this is his chance to make up for those years. He joins The Maccabees, a group that is going to scare non-Jews in order to take control. Reuven is euphoric: he feels redeemed, like he is no longer a coward. Joshua, on the other hand, sees through the hypocrisy and despises it. He is aware that his father’s status will dissolve when the pandemic ends.
One of the possible solutions to end the pandemic, the Jews are told, is to separate themselves, and they are all flown to Israel. As Sara tries to find answers, some do not want the Jewish power to end. They stop at nothing to keep Sara from finding a cure. In the end, this book takes an outlandish premise and teaches some important life lessons.
Merle Eisman Carrus resides in New Hampshire and writes book reviews for the NH Jewish Reporter newspaper. She is a graduate of Emerson College and received her Masters of Jewish Studies from Hebrew College. She blogs her book reviews at firstname.lastname@example.org