Witz

Dalkey Archive Press  2010

 
Joshua Cohen’s Witz is a formidable achievement in content and style though it requires diligence. A bold satire of society’s claims on religion and identity,Witz is sure to stir controversy. One Friday in 1999, an Orthodox Jewish family prepares for a big New Jersey Shabbat. Events soon start to parallel the stylized prose in its extraordinariness: Mrs. Israelein gives birth supernaturally, then a plague eradicates all the Jews overnight excepting firstborn sons. Government agents activate, chase scenes ensue, and Judaism becomes a cult while the last Jew, a secular man, tries to escape.

Strewn with neologisms, portmanteaus, and Yiddishisms, long sentences pull in Jewish references. Densely lyrical descriptions of acts like swallowing food and intercourse between an Affiliated (Jewish) man and a shiksa woman stifle the plot. The aggressive narrator absorbs the manic inflections of Stanley Elkin, the twists of Jewish humor, and the gravitas of the Old Testament, while creating a rambling voice of its own.

Ultimately, Witz challenges readers to keep pace with Cohen’s voracious intellect and sweeping command of details and allusions. Diligent readers will find pleasure succumbing to the hyperstimulated narrator’s intensity and be rewarded with an ambitious vision of the tragic and ridiculous.

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