Frank Humor

“He could pull this off. He was sure of it. It would have been one thing to protect Anne Frank from the Nazis; he was pretty sure he couldn't have managed that. But to protect his family from Anne Frank? How difficult could that be?” So goes the sharpest gag in the first 50 pages of Shalom Auslander's Hope: A Tragedy, a motor-mouthed stand-up routine of a novel based on the notion – nicked from Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer – that maybe Anne Frank survived, after all, and maybe that's her, right in front of our narrator. In this case, she's hiding out in his attic, old and pecking away at a manuscript, calling him a jackass for not knowing Auschwitz from Bergen-Belsen. (“Did you even read my diary?” she snaps at Kugel, the narrator. “I read Night,” he responds, “When Oprah had it.”) Auslander's work lacks the Ghost Writer's restraint and gravity, and it's hit or miss when it aspires to moral seriousness, but it is funny as hell, a rant that keeps topping itself as Kugel and family strive to make sense of the history they're burdened with. By the end, Hope: A Tragedy reads something like Lenny Bruce rewriting Bernard Malamud – which, come to think of it, is what people used to think of Roth himself. Auslander is a writer to watch.
Wed., Jan. 25, 7 p.m., 2012

 
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