The Four Questions

Posted: May 30, 2012 in greater writers than me

 Just finished Adam Levin’s The Instructions

Still think Gurion’s just another Roth character?

In some ways, yes. Aggressive? Check. Hostile to Jewish community as a whole? Check. Obsessed with his sexuality? Check. In other ways, he develops into more. Roth’s characters are aggressively secular. They do not care about religion and Torah and prophecy one bit. Gurion is more than concerned with all these things. His relationship to God is as important as his relationship to the physical world. Actually, it’s more important. Roth’s characters don’t care about the Jewish community either. For all his talk of Israelites, Gurion lives for nothing more than their approval. He just wants that approval on his terms. “Approval” may be too light a term for what he wants. He wants to be recognized again and again as the best and brightest. If he isn’t the messiah, and he definitely wants to be, he at least wants to be seen as more chosen than the rest of the Chosen.

Still think June should be axed?

June is the central problem in this book. As currently drawn, she’s one of Roth’s lesser psycho female characters. She’s crazy, though she isn’t crazy to her lover, Gurion. She has no particular personality and I still think she’s kind of a cut-out. She’s an artist with a hinted at history of sexual abuse. Meh. On the other hand, she becomes increasingly important to the plot, never more important than near the novel’s end, when she is the reason Gurion doesn’t enter the valley and Gurion seems to reject God and, maybe, his chance to be the messiah. Gurion rejects that call because God has rejected his “conversion” of June. She needs to be in the novel, but she’s a faulty construction, especially in contrast to other supporting characters.

Okay, what about these last four hundred plus pages?

They move fast and well. The gym scene is one of the best orchestrated action scenes I’ve ever read. For all the chaos and violence, I could follow everything up to and including Benji’s death. There’s a great balance here between action and Gurion’s thoughts. It’s also when Gurion’s willful blindness toward Jews/Israelites becomes most clear. This is as it should be. He’s a great brain, but he’s still possessed by illusions of the basic character of people based solely on religion. Yes, Gurion’s a bigot but he’s a good-hearted bigot. I guess if you can make me believe that, you’ve crafted a good character.

What do you think of this book?

It’s as smooth a thousand-page ride as you’ll find. I’ve discussed the action at the end, but my observations there apply to the action throughout the book. Levin can put you in that physical world. You feel yourself very much in these fights. I also dig the Talmudic commentary upon both Torah and middle school politics. The various forms of discourse described here (including video transcripts, emails, letters, psychological analyses and so forth) help when Gurion’s narrative voice becomes overbearing. June remains June. The Lord of the Flies was a good book, and so’s this, but I still hate the Hobbesian implication that all this order and law sucks but it’s better than the alternative. Levin’s book recognizes all the problems with authority and even allows a confrontation. It’s too bad doom is implicit from the get-go. I don’t want to get too political here. That doesn’t matter when it comes to judging literature. The book is worth rereading and considering, particularly those last lines which hearken back to Augie March and Gurion (Levin?) throws down the gauntlet: “I’m the end of the Jews.” He isn’t, of course. A line like that is almost a call for other writers to prove otherwise, to offer their own visions. The end of damage? Hardly.

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