The Mak­ing of Henry

  • Review
By – September 24, 2012

Push­ing 60 and the lim­its of sar­don­ic self-den­i­gra­tion, Hen­ry Nagel, only child of adored Eka­te­ri­na, aris­to­crat­ic Russ­ian Jew, and low­er-class Izzy, an uphol­ster­er and fire eater, com­i­cal­ly obsess­ing over his bach­e­lor life as a lon­er and los­er, increas­ing­ly expe­ri­ences inti­ma­tions of mor­tal­i­ty: Wordsworth, meet Kings­ley Amis. Invok­ing rec­ol­lec­tions and invent­ing con­ver­sa­tions with dead Man­ches­ter rel­a­tives and child­hood friends, he tries to under­stand how a past smoth­ered in love and Yid­dishkeit, has turned him into a defen­sive, sac­ri­fi­cial ani­mal, a bored seduc­er of old­er mar­ried women, and the most unpub­lished lit­er­ary intel­lec­tu­al in a depart­ment of a provin­cial uni­ver­si­ty gone whole-hog (and wild­ly fun­ny) fem­i­nist. Jacob­son, an award-win­ning British nov­el­ist and humorist, crafts, at turns, a hilar­i­ous and heart-warm­ing tale of belat­ed­ly grow­ing up that is as much a satir­ic take on the times as a sur­pris­ing love sto­ry involv­ing a sym­pa­thet­ic shik­sa and a neighbor’s dog. Taugetz,” as Henry’s father would say; what­ev­er, so it goes. And it goes well indeed.

Joan Baum is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at The City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York and writes reg­u­lar­ly on schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar top­ics for var­i­ous publications.

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