Magazine article Tablet Magazine

A Vital, Flawed Book Makes Rachel Cantor an Author to Watch

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

A Vital, Flawed Book Makes Rachel Cantor an Author to Watch

Article excerpt

Good on Paper, by Rachel Cantor, is an absent-minded professor of a novel: It has one foot in the real worldas real as it gets on the bourgeois-academic Upper West Sideand one in the clouds. That division between ideas and reality, literature and life, has been the engine of many comic novels, particularly Jewish onesjust think of Bellow's Moses Herzog, who writes imaginary letters to philosophers while his marriage crumbles, or Roth's Alexander Portnoy, whose sexual urges rebel against his carefully inculcated idealism. It's as though Jewish tradition, with its emphasis on abstract thought, leaves Jewish intellectuals especially vulnerable to the revenges of reality. They are perpetually surprised to find that life is not the way it appears in books.

For Shira Greene, the narrator of Good on Paper, the book that leads her astray is one of the greatest: Dante's Vita Nuova, a mixture of poetry and prose in which the Florentine poet describes his lifelong, highly spiritualized love for a woman called Beatrice. …

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