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Book Review :: Goyhood by Reuven Fenton

Review by Kevin Brown

Goyhood, Reuven Fenton’s debut novel, mixes a road trip with a twist on a coming-of-age story to develop Mayer (née Marty) Belkin’s existential crisis. Mayer grew up with his twin brother David in Georgia until one day when they were both twelve, and a rabbi came to town. When they discover they’re Jewish, Mayer goes to New York to study, marrying the daughter of a famous rabbi, while David explores a more hedonistic life. They reunite when their mother dies, leaving them with information that will change their lives, especially Mayer’s. David takes Mayer on a road trip during the week he’s away from his wife, exposing him to ideas and experiences that broaden his view of the world and himself.

Fenton slips into some writerly tics that can sometimes crop up in first novels: his narrator often comments that characters see something at their one o’clock (or some different time/location marker); he feels compelled to tell every city or town where they stop, even when nothing happens there, as if proving he knows the area; Mayer’s wife seems more like a plot point than an actual person; and he sometimes overwrites—“masticated” for “chewed” for one example.

However, the relationship between David and Mayer in Goyhood rings true, as does what Mayer needs to learn on his spiritual and emotional journey, as well as the physical one. One could do worse than spend time in a car with them and the people they meet along the way.

Goyhood by Reuven Fenton. Central Avenue Publishing, May 2024.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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