Shorts

Foreskin's Lament, Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, Shortcomings, and more
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FORESKIN'S LAMENT

By Shalom Auslander

Riverhead Books

320 pages, $24.95

It's possible that one of the 613 commandments in the Torah is "Thou shall not read Foreskin's Lament." Which of course means read it. If you've got the time, read it twice, once from right to left. You'll still laugh. It's that funny.

Shalom Auslander's memoir of life as a black sheep in a black hat picks up where his first book, the short-story collection Beware of God (Simon and Schuster, 2005), left off, taking a well-hewed ax to the image of the Almighty. But unlike God bashers du jour Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Auslander believes in the pie maker in the sky. And as his worn punch line goes, it's been a real problem for him.

It was a problem while he was growing up in the Orthodox community of Monsey, NY, where he developed a penchant for pornography and junk food. It was a problem throughout his teens, as he padded his résumé of sin with lots of pot smoking and shoplifting. And it was even more of a problem, years later, after his wife became pregnant with their first child, a son no less. Having a family aggravated Auslander's deep-seated religious paranoia. God, the wrathful stalker who smites first and asks questions later, was surely going to murder his family. It would be payback for years of vioutf8g the laws of Judaism. As his second-most-tired punch line goes, that would be so God.

Auslander plays the alienation and theological abuse (his wife's words, not mine) for laughs, defiling his religious upbringing in ways that will win him friends and enemies in equal measure. But his paranoia — the idea that God will get him and his family — casts some very dark shadows over the book, not so dismal as to ruin a good time, but grave enough to bring the story to its supplicant knees. Still, Foreskin's Lament is a romp — relentlessly unrepentant and irreverent. Auslander may be a weak man and a bad Jew, tempted by tits and traif, but he's a better writer for it. Here's hoping he has enough raw material for future laments over other parts of the body. (Scott Steinberg)

CONVERSATION

With Steve Almond

SF Jewish BookFest

Sun/4, 12:45–2 p.m., free

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Kanbar Hall

3200 California, SF

(415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org

SENTENCES: THE LIFE OF MF GRIMM

Written by Percy Carey; illustrated by Ronald Wimberly

Vertigo

128 pages, $19.99

While reading Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, Percy Carey's graphic-memoir debut, it comes in handy to know a bit of the backstory — such as the recent controversy surrounding Carey, a.k.a. MF Grimm, and his former artistic partner MF Doom, onetime tight collaborators who have fallen out publicly through dis tracks. Familiarity with the innovative rapper's street life–meets–transcendence flows is also a plus. Readers who come to Sentences fresh may be taken aback by Carey's grittiness and what seems to be an argument that people don't really change — they either calm down or die.

And yet Sentences, more HBO drama than MTV interview, will get you in the end. As we follow Carey, a gifted rapper but a natural fighter, from a rebellious Upper West Side youth through drug dealing, a paralyzing gunshot attack, and harsh jail time, he never stops believing that hip-hop is the most positive outlet for his particular type of raucous energy.