• Review
By – August 25, 2011
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.

Read Joshua Cohen’s Posts on The Vis­it­ing Scribe

Writ­ing a Book Like Coney Island

The Biggest Ceme­tery in the World

A Para­ble for Writing

Sam White lives in Brook­lyn and is from San Fran­cis­co and Bak­ers­field, CA.

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