Over the years, I've been following the novels of Naomi Ragen, set in the modern world as seen through the eyes of her Orthodox Jewish men and women. Throughout temptations and blows, they all manage to come through questioning their faith in a world that doesn't understand them, and still being themselves.
In this one, however, that doesn't look to be the case. The tale of Delilah Goldgrab is a sad one, where a beautiful girl from working class parents longs to be accepted and in with the people who have money and good things. Instead of relying on what she does have -- namely terrific good looks, and parents who adore her -- Delilah decides at an early age to do everything that she can to be one of the popular ones. With a bit of scheming and trolling for her best prospects, Delilah lands one Chaim Levi, a young rabbinical student who clearly adores here, but sadly, can't seem to thread his way through Delilah's schemes to have it all.
First the congretation that Chaim is 'inheriting' from his beloved grandfather isn't good enough, full of aging members who view Delilah with quite a bit of suspicion, the apartment in the Bronx isn't good enough, her mother-in-law treats her with suspicion, and even poor Chaim isn't up to scratch either. Bored and unhappy, Delilah pesters and nags, until she finds out about a community in Connecticut that has been blacklisted by every rabbi in America.
The how and why of that exclusion, and what happens when Delilah suddenly starts to find all of her dreams coming true is the turning point of this novel. Delilah, sadly, is a character that the reader can't really summon up much sympathy for. She's shallow, greedy, not very charitable, and her entire world begins and ends just beyond her nose. She doesn't have any friends, she doesn't try to keep the ones that she does have, and worst still, she tells little lies in the vain hope that it will keep people impressed with her. Even Chaim, the husband who is clearly smitten with her, and willing to do anything for her, isn't that interesting either -- I kept hoping that he would grow a spine throughout the novel.
Despite several very funny scenarios -- most amusing is the one where Delilah gives birth to a son without really knowing what is involved -- this sad novel lumbers along to a ridiculous ending. I'm not quite sure where Ragen was going with this, was it a satire on modern Orthodox life? The materialism and greed of the turn of milliennium? The end result was that it's a tragic novel, not really worth the time that it takes get through it, and despite giving it an interesting twist at the end, where it seems that everyone gets exactly what they desire, it's not a very impressive or entertaining read.
No one really grows up, except for maybe Chaim, and he's such a sad-sack of a character that you really don't care if he discovers what an immature brat that he's picked. All of the people who inhabit this story are selfish and self-absorbed, striving for another conquest in bed, or more in their upscale homes, more clothing, more shoes, more more more, that I had a nearly impossible time feeling anything. I didn't care anything at all for them, and that to me, is a fatal flaw in a story. If you really don't have a plot, and the characters who stumble about blindly, then what's the point?
It's clear that Ragen was striving for a modern adaptation of Flaubert's Emma Bovary, who hungers for passion and the grand life in provincial France, and gets none of it in her ever-increasing spiral towards self-destruction. But Delilah Goldgrab Levi can't even get that far.
Naomi Regan has written far better stories than this one, but this one is a waste of time and paper. Here's hoping that the next one is more entertaining, or at least, she learns from the mistakes that she made from this one. Two stars, and not recommended at all.