Dear Joshua Cohen,
You didn’t write back to my first letter, which is fine–almost better–as I’m now reading your novel “Witz” again of my own volition. I’m about 400 pages in.
Why did I pick it up again? A handful of reasons, a few of which I’ll list here:
1) I biked from Park Slope to Williamsburg through a large community of Hasidic Jews. I recalled the scene early on in your book of Hanna in the shower, washing her pregnant belly and recalling her twelve previous pregnancies, excited for her next birth. The scene was heartfelt and well-rendered and I almost choked up remembering it as I biked through the Hasidim.
2) During a late-night conversation about the differences between the modern, the premodern, and the postmodern epochs of humanity, I found myself extrapolating from your imagery of the Israelien family preparing Shabbos dinner, using it as inspiration for an idea I’m fleshing out regarding the premodern. That is, when human action was motivated by God(s) and traditions and rituals as opposed to the possibility of fulfillment of individual desires. I tend to like a book that helps me with ideas.
3) When I put your book down I read and loved Cheever’s “Bullet Park,” finishing it on a commuter train from Grand Central to Westchester. I felt high on literature.
4) After some reflection, I remembered that one of the things tripping me up about your sentences was that I’d lose focus during them and my thoughts would transmogrify into self-centered questions asked in the second-person, like: “Why haven’t you written a book like this?” and then “Could you ever write a book like this?” and then “How come he’s published so much and you’ve published so little in comparison and he’s only three years older than you?” This isn’t the book’s fault, but rather the fault of my own tentacled ego.
5) I went to Cape Cod with my girlfriend’s family and I wanted to take a big book with me to lose myself in.
6) Finally, when describing my predicament over not-reading “Witz” to a friend, I summarized the plot. She perked up and said, “Oh, that sounds interesting.”
So I’m reading it. I’m not actually sure I like it. I might want to like it more than I actually like it. But I’m inside of it and my ego has lessened and when I’m reading it I do feel fulfilled by it. Problems still exist, but whatever. It’s cool. Just thought I’d let you know.