What happens when a Jew and a Gentile mate
By Donalevan Maines
As the English mother of a half-Jewish gay son, Anne Rosenbaum is the kind of person who . . . no, she is a person, period, who doesn’t let nationality, culture, or inherited religious beliefs define her. She’s also one of relatively few fictional characters in Chandler Burr’s terrific debut novel You or Someone Like You (HarperCollins, harpercollins.com), which is roundly peopled by bold-faced Hollywood names (“Kate,” for example, is actress Kate Caphsaw, and her son “Sawyer” is Sawyer Spielberg, son of Steven).
Married to Hollywood executive Howard Rosenbaum, Anne improbably finds herself leading a book club that becomes a big draw for Tinseltown’s elite (improbable because “nobody reads in Hollywood,” a character quips). But when son Sam, 17, goes to Israel and is rejected by a yeshiva for being impure because of his Gentile mother, Howard faces a crisis of conscience and becomes a “ba’al teshuva,” a Jew returned to “G-d.” Temple commands that Howard extinguish his “forbidden love” for the shiksa and divorce Anne.
Backed by Sam and Jack, a budding gay screenwriter, Anne fights to restore her marriage by sampling passages from the couple’s best-loved authors and channeling her pleas to Howard through members of the book club.
Burr, 46, who is gay, allows that “what happens to [Sam in Israel] happened to me, in real life, more or less exactly as described.” It’s taken Burr 20 years to process that event into a thoughtful, acerbic work of comic fiction. While I’ve read that Burr has never had a long-term romantic relationship, it strikes me as odd because his book is a beautiful portrait of a marriage and loving parenthood.
I nominate Angelina Jolie to play strong-willed Anne in the movie version.