This is a complicated novel about being present. It simultaneously explores the difficult relationships Jews have with themselves (and their Israeli-ness and/or American-ness) as well as the diffident relationship the main character has with his ailing dog. In the backdrop is a cataclysmic earthquake that rocks the Middle East and culminates in yet another war to destroy Israel -- and a call to all Jews worldwide to come to her aid.
The first half of the novel is mostly chronological; the second half is scattershot, leaping years and returning in a matter of sentences, and punctuated throughout by headings that interrupt us (even mid-Torah portion!). Throughout is a common set of questions: Am I doing the right thing? Why is this happening? How do I respond? Though Jacob, the main character, tortures himself for not responding the correct way and not expressing his feelings and using humor to deflect intimacy, he seems ultimately to learn that what’s actually critical is none of those things, but instead to be present, to say, in effect, Here I am. This seems to be the main, if simple, theme.
The author’s skill in portraying Jacob’s young sons, his wife, their older family members, and their Israeli cousins was a delight. Laugh-out-loud absurd dialogue -- for example, when Jacob gets high with his Israeli cousin smoking from a cored apple, the apple of truth, which his cousin announces he wants to fuck but his penis is too big -- leavens the existential crises sufficiently to make this an engaging and fast-moving read in the first half.
The fracturing of the narrative thereafter was a disappointment: too staccato and frankly quite distracting. Maybe the ambivalence (even indifference) was intended, but never did these characters seem particularly disturbed by Israel’s imminent destruction, which sapped the story’s urgency. Well worth a read, but I preferred his earlier novels.