Book Review: Shalom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament”

I just closed the cover on Foreskin’s Lament: a Memoir by Shalom Auslander.

This is one of those books that fully realizes memoir’s potential to illuminate the stage, to borrow Jill Ker Conway’s phrase. Auslander’s memoir explores his childhood “raised like a veal” in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community.  Ker Conway used the life of a Catholic priest as an example of the way memoir allows us to try on the experience of another, but she might as well have been writing about poor Shalom stuck between the believers and his own evolving relationship with the Big Guy who excels at fucking him up with His complicated and contradictory laws. The book follows his path to an uneasy adult cease-fire.

Auslander writes with the kind of humor that can only come from studying both Talmud and National Lampoon. The book is worth reading for its delight in language alone. If you have also had a narrow escape with Religion with a Capital R, that’s even more reason to dive in.

Here are a few quotations that I loved so much I want to roll them around in my brain a long while. Maybe doing so will teach me to write like that.

I wonder sometimes if I suffer from a metaphysical form of Stockholm syndrome. Held captive by this Man for thousands of years, we now praise Him, defend Him, excuse Him, sometimes kill for Him, an army of Squeaky Frommes swearing allegiance to their Charlie in the sky.

. . .

It was Sabbath afternoon–bride afternoon, covenant afternoon, gift afternoon–and I was slumped facedown on the kitchen table, staring past an Entenmann’s coffee cake box at the yellowing flip clock on the stovetop across the room. It had been reading 1:59 p.m. for what seemed like hours. At last the top half of the 9 began its infuriatingly laggard fall forward, a slow-motion suicide from the top of the tallest building in Clockland, landing, sometime later, face-first at its final resting place below.

(Have you ever read a more evocative description of boredom?)

. . .

I told Becky it was okay. I told her I lied about some things too. We sat together for a while, talking about friends and school, and then I walked her to her front door and kissed her good night, and we hugged, two lonely liars in the harsh, accusing spotlight of the moon.

. . .

[about a final meeting with the psychiatrist who has been helping him deal with his veal-like upbringing] My session with Ike felt like a victorious team meeting in the locker room after a long, difficult game.

. . .

[spoiler alert: the premise of the book’s title comes from the following passage] I’ve been thinking about the people in my life now, and here’s what I think: I think they’re all foreskins. Jack’s a foreskin; his mother brutalized him, cast him off, cut him repeatedly. Alish is a foreskin, and her husband, Will is, too. So am I. So is Orli. A little foreskin nation, trying their best to start over, build up, move on.

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About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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