The Prophet of Tenth Street: A Novel

State University Press of New York  2012


Marcus Weiss, age fifty-two, is deeply engaged in writing his first novel as well as a dictionary, and keeping numerous journals. He is in a loving, but evolving relationship. He is first a Jew, with all the history and complications that implies. He has kept track of his life by remembering “what came first and what happened later.” Student life in Paris, a marriage, a business, parenthood, divorce, and now retirement propel and nourish his current literary journey. He is disciplined, self-indulgent, and often pompous. He lectures his few friends and chides them for not reading enough, not enriching their intellects. When his friend suggests that he spend less time writing his daily journals and live life more, Marcus assures him that he “lives it doubly. When I live it and when I write it.” His lover, Gina, names him The Prophet of Tenth Street because he “can’t bear the idea that others, friends in particular, are not like him.”

Tsipi Keller has taken us into a writer’s very being. It is hard work and all-consuming. While at times we may be impatient with Marcus the social person, we always admire his drive. We cheer when he is joyous upon finishing the second draft of his novel, so pleased with the progress of his craft. He says, “From revision to revision you actually see how your book evolves, how it is transformed. And the same happens to you, you become transformed.” Yes, writing transforms him, but real, life-changing experiences do as well. We even get to feel kinder toward Marcus. This is a provocative story that stays with the reader.

Discussion Questions

1. It has been noted (in a review) that The Prophet of Tenth Street "could serve as a basis for a Woody Allen movie: introspective characters, a New York arena, Jews and gentiles, occasional quotes of selected excerpts from the literary cannon…" – Do you agree with the reviewer? Does the author provide enough visual details? Does she succeed in bringing the characters, and the city, to life?

2. Flaubert has famously said: "Madame Bovary c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is me"). In this novel, the author, Tsipi Keller, is a woman, while the protagonist, Marcus Weiss, is a man. In your view, is the depiction of Marcus Weiss authentic? Believable?

3. Does the flow of Marcus's preoccupations and thoughts remind you of the check and flow of your own consciousness or awareness?

4. Marcus obviously understands a lot about his life, and about living in general. But how understanding is he of other people? Does he truly know those around him?

5. In general, is Marcus a personality you would enjoy being close friends with? Or would you avoid such a person at all costs?

6. At times Marcus is quite absorbed with issues and memories that are part of his identity as a Jewish person whose parents fled Germany in 1934, carrying Marcus, their newborn baby, in a satchel. How, if at all, do you think this identity and history is relevant or related to Marcus's obsession with books? How has it affected the trajectory of his life and his development as a human being?

7. No one would argue that Marcus Weiss isn't self-involved. But is he merely a selfish narcissist, or do his preoccupations redeem him as a social being and serve society in some way?

8. To what extent and in what ways do you take Marcus to be a "prophet" or to what extent and in what ways do you take "prophet" in the title to be ironic?

9. How would you feel about being involved in a romantic relationship with a person such as Marcus? Or with Gina, his girlfriend?

10. There is a large age difference between Marcus and Stephen Daedalus, the main character in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But what similarities and/or differences do you find between these two men and the ways in which they are portrayed?

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