Benjamin Steiner has begun his twenty-second year high above the glittering streets of New York City — impossibly stoned and still, despite his best efforts, very much a virgin. But he hopes that will soon change.
In this superbly rendered story of a devout Jewish college boy’s headlong rush into manhood, Ben and a remarkable cast of supporting characters grapple with issues of nascent love, reckless infatuation (with both sex and drugs) and the ever-popular question of whether the KBH really cares (Kadosh Baruch Hu: Holy One, blessed be He).
Make no mistake. This is no ordinary coming-of-age story about a privileged undergrad unsteadily feeling his way into the eye-opening wonder of first love. It is, rather, the poignant and often raucous recounting of just how Ben traverses an emotional minefield of his own making.
Along the way, award-winning author Iolanthe Woulff explores what it meant to be Jewish in the 70s subculture of Gotham and its major universities like Columbia and Princeton. And she probes with a practiced authorial hand the complexities of each well-drawn character — from feckless but endearing Ben, to his wisecracking, dope-dealing bud P.T. Deighland, to the impossibly sweet Rebecca Glaser, whose sudden emigration to Israel sets an unfortunate set of events into motion.
Almost cinematic at times, this could easily be adapted to the wide screen, with entire sequences, dialogue and plotline left firmly in place. Indeed, one particular party scene during Princeton’s famed annual Reunions event is especially memorable. Fans of the film classic Animal House will love it.
Five-plus stars to Ms. Woulff, who relates a singular story of her own in the Author’s Preface. It has nothing — and everything — to do with the book itself, and provides fascinating background into the creative — and oft-delayed — process surrounding the book’s publication. We’re glad she persevered to produce one of the best works of fiction we’ve seen this year.