Gedaliah Mensch, 27, reads in the news about The American Man, a wanted rapist and murderer of male African-American rap artists. Gedaliah remembers his Modern Orthodox Jewish childhood after his father died. The next day he goes to work and his students come to class high, having not read the work he assigned. He walks home down a dark alley and inadvertently interrupts an attack: the attacker yells, hears Gedaliah’s shifting footsteps, and runs away. Gedaliah attempts to comfort the victim, a young African American woman in a basketball jersey. In the news he sees a rap artist who looks like the young victim from the night before, being brought in for questioning. He believes the attacker he interrupted is The American Man, but is ignored by the police. He protests when US Armed Services recruiters for the Iraq War speak to students at Gedaliah’s work, and he is fired. The next day he stays in bed, smoking pot and popping ecstasy before attending a family bar mitzvah. He interacts with his family, and takes a cigarette break, discussing the Quran with a kitchen worker, before being interrupted by his girlfriend Lora. They hear gunshots and screams from inside the celebration hall, and the kitchen worker runs onto the bus, strapped with a suicide vest, and blows up himself and Gedaliah’s entire family. He and Lora are thrown to the ground, and Lora dies. He grabs a semi-automatic rifle and runs down the streets after the attackers. Losing them, he finds a child looking for his father, simultaneously seeing a car speed by with tied hands resting on the back window. He feels dizzy, goes into a dark bar, and passes out. He wakes in a hospital bed, seeing the faces of his dead siblings on the faces of the medical staff and clergy. He is released and stays in his mother’s apartment. His friends surprise him with a shiva call, but after they leave he fantasizes about how the suicide bomber felt before dying. Gedaliah talks to his dead mother, and prays to his siblings for guidance, then gets a letter from the Mayor of New York, inviting him to a ceremony to commemorate his family and the other victims of the attack. Gedaliah crafts a wooden dagger and practices lunging it into the Mayor’s neck. At the ceremony, he sees his friends in the front row, and many other rows filling with New Yorkers from all walks of life. The Mayor speaks and Gedaliah sees the faces of his siblings on every face in the crowd. He rises to join the Mayor at the podium, and sees The American Man in the front row. He looks at his siblings’ faces in the crowd and says, “Thank you,” into the mic. The American Man points a gun at the Mayor, but Gedaliah hugs the Mayor, taking the bullet. In the aftermath, Gedaliah arranges for a restorative justice session with The American Man, Mr. Arthur Ducks, but Ducks commits suicide. Gedaliah visits the mass grave while Ducks is buried, and cries to Lora. He starts teaching adult ESL students. Obama is elected president, and as Gedaliah watches the Obama family on TV crossing the stage, he sees a man in the front row of the crowd, who looks like The American Man.
Plot: The plot of this novel is often hard to follow, though it does, more or less, come together in the end. However, there are significant plot holes and the pace is often erratic.
Prose: The writing here is inconsistent. Sometimes it is clumsy and confusing. But at other times it features wonderful phrasing.
Originality: The story is refreshingly original, albeit disturbingly dark. Additionally, the complex voice is unique and helps make the book feel fresh.
Character Development: The characters are expertly developed. Gedaliah is engaging and complicated. The supporting cast is equally engaging.
Date Submitted: April 14, 2018