Monday, July 11, 2011

Book #51: Stereotypes and Desire

"Whatever Sam Finkler wanted, his effect on Julian Treslove was always to put him out of sorts and make him feel excluded from something.  And false to a self he wasn't sure he had."
                                                                                  -Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

This morning after awaking from a turbulent dream, I made myself a double espresso and curled up on the sofa with Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which I've been reading for the past couple weeks.  This novel, which won the Man Booker Prize last year, gives a brilliant and hilarious glimpse into the fantasy life of Julian Treslove, a man who has envied his Jewish friend, Sam Finkler, since childhood days, and at some primal level yearns to be Jewish himself.  Something of an artist manque and failure when it comes to relationships with women, despite years of womanizing - particularly after landing a job as an impersonator of Brad Pitt - Treslove has a love-hate relationship with Finkler, who seems to be everything he is not.  Successful.  Bitingly funny.  Rich.  Centred in his sense of self and heritage.  Married to the late Tyler Finkler, an impressive Jewish woman, whom Treslove was disappointed to discover, after their tryst in the sack years ago, was actually only a converted Jew.

That elusive thing Finkler possesses is constantly slipping away from Treslove, eluding his grasp.  For the rest of the morning, this book made me smile as I indulged in the happy-sad, melancholy-ironic ups and downs of Treslove's journey through a world where stereotypes and desire map on to each other, and one can only be experienced through the other.

And might I venture as a personal aside, that this absurd yet real predicament goes beyond Jewishness?  As I was reading this novel, I found myself thinking about all the bizarre moments in my own life, most of them involving ex-boyfriends, when it became clear that my "Japaneseness" somehow made me desirable.  I can recall one or two guys during university telling me that in some strange, inexplicable way they felt Japanese, and dating me was helping to bring this side of themselves out (admittedly a good deal of drinking was involved in these late night confessions).  As a fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian who doesn't speak the language, and who had a near breakdown when I lived in Japan for a summer several years ago, I myself have never felt very Japanese and have often felt there's something strangely misleading about my Japanese appearance.  But such is the ironic reality of living in an age where stereotypes make people desirable....        

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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.