Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First note on _Witz_

1. Even though this is a very long novel (817 pages), its main story line is readily summarized. On December 17, 1999, a son, Benjamin, is born to Israel and Hanna Israelien of New Jersey, who already have twelve daughters. A week later, on Christmas Eve, all the Jews in the United States die, except those who are first-born sons. Ben is temporarily put in the care of his grandfather in Florida (also a first-born son), but the surviving first-born sons, including Ben, are gathered into a special institution by government command. At Passover, however, a second catastrophe strikes, and all of the first-born son Jews die as well, except Ben. Somehow, in the wake of this catastrophe, almost all of the United States converts to Judaism, or we might say adopts it, there being no Jews left to conduct any formal conversions.

Ben is now a precious commodity; he is provided with a model of his family’ home, complete with women performing the roles of his mother and sisters, is being groomed as a kind of royalty-celebrity, and is engaged to the president’s daughter. The wedding is to be held on the 4th of July in Las Vegas – here, Los Siegeles – but Ben lights out for the territory. He roams the southwest, then makes his way eastward, finding his way to his family’s abandoned house in New Jersey, then reuniting with his ersatz mother and sisters. He has a spectacular episode of cunnilingus with his ersatz mother (in the course of which his tongue is ripped out), news of which leaks out via a hotel maid, leading to his disgrace and fall. Now an outlaw, he flees to Poland – here, “Polandland,” now owned and administered by the U.S. as a kind of Old World theme park with a sinister purpose: those who have refused to become Jews are brought here to be put to death.

Ben, however – I’m not sure how – emerges in “Palestein,” which in the alternate universe of this novel is an Arab monarchy. He has grown horns. He has an extraordinary visionary experience that ends, I suspect, in his death. In the final chapter of this main story line of the book, a museum holds a gala event to celebrate the acquisition of a sacred relic—Ben’s tongue.

The novel has a coda of some thirty pages in which the last living Holocaust survivor muses in unpunctuated, Molly-Bloom fashion over his past and present. He is 108, and the novel ends with the punchlines – only the punchlines – of 108 Jewish jokes.

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