Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review: Marjorie Morningstar

(Who'd even try to sell a book that sold as well, as long ago, as Marjorie Morningstar? I would; it's fit to read, and I have a copy. Blogjob tags: 1950’s bestsellersJewish identityJewish religious practicenovel about boring familiesnovel about failed actorsnovel by Herman Woukreligious lives of people without spirituality.)

A Fair Trade Book (wow!)
Title: Marjorie Morningstar
Author: Herman Wouk
Date: 1955
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: none
Length: 565 pages
Quote: “I daydreamed of presenting myself to Marjorie, a successful playwright, when she’d be just another suburban housewife.”
Marjorie doesn’t want to be just another suburban housewife. She wants to be an actress. She’s willing to compromise her Jewish identity as much as her boyfriend, Noel, has compromised his. Their families, who take being Jewish seriously, naturally worry about Noel and Marjorie and their other teenaged friends.
Marjorie Morningstar was a bestseller in its day. As a piece of American cultural history it may still interest some readers. My opinion is that it goes on too long and, although the male author understands young women’s sexual behavior quite well, he doesn’t show much understanding of anything about them beyond that. We see Marjorie thinking in relation to men. We don’t see her thinking alone.
Although Marjorie’s religious affiliation is a main theme of the novel, we see her religion expressed only in terms of obedience or disobedience to rules. This is not necessarily due to incompetence, but neither is it clearly due to the tradition of “verbal modesty” that makes some observant Jews wary of discussing religion, nor to an intention to communicate that Marjorie is a thoughtless teenager—we’re not shown even a glimpse of a more serious girl who might have been the good example Marjorie doesn’t follow.
It’s not just that Marjorie hasn’t had her feminist consciousness raised, either. Real women her age are only in their seventies today. Many of the ones who were boring before feminism came along are boring still; most of the ones who were interesting before feminism came along are interesting still. And Noel is, if possible, even less interesting than Marjorie. And Jane Eyre and Becky Sharp were more interesting than Marjorie even in 1855.
I think the most charitable interpretation of Marjorie Morningstar is that Wouk really was writing out his feelings about some former friends, which would explain why Marjorie, Noel, their friends, and their parents are such a dreary set of people. If you read just one chapter at a time, you can even admire Wouk’s skill at communicating the emptiness of these people’s lives. Just don’t try to read very much of it at one setting—your mind will choke—and do spend some quality time, in real life, in cyberspace, or in books, around Jewish people who are interesting. (Wouk's Don't Stop the Carnival contains some (, and the late Sam Levenson wrote some hilarious alleged nonfiction on the subject.)

Wouk was born in May 1915 and, as of April 2016, he's still alive, so this is still a Fair Trade Book. Buy it that way while you can! $5 per book + $5 per copy means a total price of $15 if you throw in one of Wouk's other bestsellers, and $1 per book will be sent to Wouk or a charity of his choice.