Trying Not to be "Snipery"

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By Helen Kossler

Reading Between the Lines

I’m one hundred pages into The Instructions by Adam Levin and I’m beginning to suspect that I am not smart enough to read this book. I can tell that this is a SERIOUS book of literature and will be the darling of critics everywhere.  It will probably be an Oprah Book Club pick. It abounds with Symbolism and Metaphor and Literary Tropes. 

All I can say is “Huh?”

I mean, I get it that the invented language (bance, goozy, twetched, flaved) is meant to expand the expressiveness of language and convey subtle nuances that conventional words cannot.  But I find it tedious. I could live with it if it were obvious what the author is trying to convey, but frequently, it leaves me scratching my head.

There are funny scenarios and in those instances, the invented words work. But when Gurion is ruminating and rehashing the same phrase over and over in different word order or emphasis, it’s annoying. And he ruminates a lot. I suspect that’s to demonstrate his formidable mental prowess.

The story assumes the reader is conversant in Jewish culture and religion. I understand most of the references because I studied Hebrew for two years in college and have friends who are observant Jews.  Even so, it feels like the story was written for Torah scholars, which I decidedly am not.  At the library appearance on 10-27-10, Levin said he did not research the Torah for this book but used references that he recalled from his Hebrew school days. Apparently, he remembered a lot. It creates a barrier, however, for those with little acquaintance with Judaism.

And then there’s the protagonist, Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee.  He’s ten years old, a holy (and I use the word advisedly) terror and an acknowledged genius. I’ve been around a lot of very bright kids as a teacher and I don’t buy this one.  Brilliant kids can leave you breathless with their insights, creativity and amazing leaps in understanding, yet they are still kids. Gurion is too sophisticated in his language and in his sexual understanding to be ten.  He’s an adolescent, not a little boy. 

If I am not taken with a book by page 100, I generally stop reading, but I am going to continue with my quest to finish this book. Those of you who understand this novel better than I, are welcome to weigh in.

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