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The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern book review

The Frozen Rabbi is billed as magical realism but magical realism requires a sense of whimsy. Instead of whimsy, The Frozen Rabbi reeks of contempt for anyone and anything that comes into its view. A narrative that crosses a 100 years and the life of dozens of men and women seems to have no purpose except to humiliate and degrade every single one of them. Just when you think The Frozen Rabbi has gone as low as it could possibly go, it goes even lower. Any noble impulse has to be degraded in a book that begins with a teenager masturbating to a piece of frozen liver and ends with the dead teenager’s girlfriend having sex in prison with the titular frozen Rabbi.

frozen rabbi

The Frozen Rabbi isn’t even uniquely bad. It’s a bad pastiche of a hundred years of literature ending with Philip Roth and Michael Chabon. And Steve Stern makes a poor man’s Michael Chabon, which is sad because Michael Chabon is already a poor man’s Michael Chabon. Like Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The Frozen Rabbi isn’t a story of characters, it’s a collection of ghetto stereotypes wedged into absurd situations that the authors feel no connection with resulting in what deserves to be called, Minstrel Show Literature. It’s about an absurdity that the authors have decided is inherently noteworthy because of its absurdity.

The Frozen Rabbi is the kind of labored absurdist satire that has been cranked out for as long as disgruntled college freshmen have looked for books that reward their sneering cynicism. It’s Rob Swiggart’s Little America dressed up in a black hat and coat and there are enough similarities between the two books that Steve Stern could be accused of plagiarism, if there weren’t a million other books that told the same story in the same labored fashion.

Aside from the sexism, racism and homophobia, The Frozen Rabbi isn’t nearly as offensive as it wants to be. It’s just tired. Like its title character it’s frozen and it never thaws out.

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