How does hope survive the vicissitudes of life? Jeff Friedman’s ability to laugh and cry at the same time resonates deeply. These poems are celebratory and comic parables of fully embracing a complex, often mysterious existence, an embrace full of identification for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. The criteria for such an approach is a type of rebellion or different point of view, as in “I Did It,” where the poet empties the chocolate sample dish without buying, questions the waitress about the “specials” to the point where she disappears rather than bear with his quarrelsome nitpicking, and more that might be typically annoying behavior or might be so much more that will not brook blind acceptance of the norm. Or in a beautiful poem entitled “Hagar,” the poet describes the real conflict between Hagar and Sarah over Abraham, as their sons remained embittered enemies, “She wanted the future. I wanted you.” Perhaps the dream is the contemporary American Jewish one in “Cashing In,” “I step inside my father’s dream/and listen, ‘We’ll be so rich/we’ll live in a hotel./We’ll be so rich…’” Perhaps it’s the comical yet to some ultra-serious terror of dating and wedding outside of the ultra-Orthodox community, solved in a contemporary response, “”My father took me aside,/putting two fingers up to his lips/in our house of mourning,/’You want to get ahead with the goyim,’/he whispered, ‘you gotta learn/to play a little golf.’” Irreverent reverence, indeed — a delightful collection.
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.