A Divine Book of Revelations

Ron Charles in The Washington Post:

Book Woven through this story are two largely separate stories involving Audrey's adult daughters. Poor Karla is the opposite of her mother: a lumpy, gentle woman with a crippled self-image, a desperate desire to please, a reflexive impulse to apologize. Heller describes her marriage to a pompous union organizer with cringe-inducing precision, particularly “their terse bedroom encounters,” which may be the most dispiriting sex scenes ever written. One night Karla catches a glimpse of her husband's expression in bed: “equal parts repulsion and resignation — a sort of stoic anguish, like a child squaring up to the task of eating his spinach.” The only pleasure in her obedient life is her affair with a quirky Egyptian who runs a convenience shop at the hospital. It's the sort of life-giving act of adultery you can't help cheering on, but is Karla willing to give up everything and imagine herself happy?

The real heart of the novel belongs to Audrey's younger daughter, Rosa, a lonely, sharp-tongued woman casting about desperately for something to believe in, something to replace the comforting self-righteousness of her family's revolutionary zeal. Disillusioned by socialism after four years in Cuba, Rosa shocks her parents when she announces that she's begun attending an Orthodox synagogue. It's an affront to secular Jews who have long prided themselves on their complete freedom from “the idiocy of faith.” (Her father always sent back friends' bar mitzvah invitations with the words “There is no God” scrawled across them.)

Her mother claims she's just playing “Queen of the Matzoh” to get attention, but Rosa's attraction to Judaism is fraught with doubts and objections — intellectual, political and aesthetic — articulated in Heller's snortingly funny put-downs. Even while studying with an Orthodox rabbi, Rosa is embarrassed to be “consorting in broad daylight with such ostentatiously Jewish Jews.”

More here.