Goyhood: a wonderful read!

Reuven Fenton, Goyhood: A Novel (Central Avenue, 2024), 276 pages. 

The story of twin boys is as ancient as Esau and Joseph. In this story, David and his younger brother (by forty-three seconds) Marty are raised by a single mother in a small town in Georgia. Together, they make quite a team. Then their lives change one afternoon as they come home on their bikes and discover a rabbi talking to their mother. She confirms their Jewish heritage. This sets them on divergent paths. Marty takes this revelation seriously (and changes his name to the more Jewish sounding “Mayer”). He becomes a model Jewish student. He receives a scholarship and heads to New York for more study. There, he marries the daughter of a leading Orthodox Jewish scholar, who provides for their needs. He spends his life studying and living as an observant Jew. 

David, on the other hand, becomes involved in all kinds lots of shady business deals. He makes and loses money, but mostly loses money.  Then he finds success. Now middle-aged, their mother’s death brings the boys back together.  She committed suicide and left behind another revelation in the form of a letter.  While there to morn their mother’s death, and with the revelation that he’s not even Jewish, David encourages Mayer to go on a road trip as the brothers become reacquainted. 

For Marty, who has lived his life in a sheltered Jewish enclave in New York, it’s a chance to really see the world, a sort of Jewish Rumspringa.  The travels and his brother’s experiences amaze Marty. Along the way, we learn more about both brothers as well as Mayer’s marriage. They have a few close run-ins with the law, and adopt a dog.

In New Orleans, David picks up Charlayne, an African American social media influencer he met on the internet. She’s planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail, and David suggests to Mayer they drop off her at Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the trail. Two white guys traveling through the South with a black woman sets up some interesting encounters such as one which happened in a fireworks store. They even hike a day with Charlayne, allowing David a chance to experience nature and to ponder the meaning of worship. Charlayne, who has dealt with her own grief, gives Mayer a copy of book she’s read multi-times, C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, which opens his mind up to the thoughts of non-Jews on the subject of grief. 

David also arranges for him and his brother to attend a Jewish retreat in the mountains. This allows for more interesting encounters, from a phony self-centered musician who acts as if he’s unable to walk, to a woman rabbi. The whole concept of a woman rabbi is beyond Mayer’s comprehension, but she opens his eyes to possibilities beyond previously narrow life. 

I’ll save the ending of the book for the reader. This is a quick read, and there’s plenty of laughs along the way. I recommend reading the book. I read the book at a time I needed some chuckles, mostly while sitting in my father’s hospice room in the days before his death. But the book isn’t just humorous. Fenton explores the meaning of faith, belonging, race, and family. 

My one wish is that the book would include a glossary of Jewish words used throughout the book. Such words are sprinkled throughout the book and add to the story. While I knew some of the words, most were unfamiliar to me. I found myself googling some phrases. The word “Goy,” used in the title is a Yiddish word for a gentile or non-Jew.  

I received an advanced publication of the book for the purpose of reviewing the book. The book was published earlier this week.

6 Replies to “Goyhood: a wonderful read!”

  1. I am on the hunt for a good read. I’ve been buried in The Code Breaker by Isaacson, and need a break from the intrigued and angst of the advances in gene editing.

    My condolences to you and your family. Losing a parent is one of the most difficult passages we face in our lives. No matter how old we are when saying goodbye to those two people responsible for our existence, it’s heart-wrenching. You paid a beautiful tribute to your dad. I hope your reflective time helps you heal and come to terms with your loss.

  2. That sounds really good. There are some secrets to why they split up and then got together I’d really like to know. And, of course, a good road trip is so healing.

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