Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: The Last Jewish Virgin, by Janice Eidus

Reviewed by Christina. Complimentary review copy provided by Red Hen Press.

Complete title: The Last Jewish Virgin: A Novel of Fate

: 2010

It's about: Our protagonist, Lilith Zeremba, considers herself "The Last Jewish Virgin." Her life's goal is to become a respected fashion designer, and she's decided that in order to succeed she must remain romantically and sexually abstinent, undistracted.

The book opens with Lilith dressing in an extravagant vampire costume for her first day of art school. That day, she meets a sweet boy named Colin, for whom she falls in the conventional romantic fashion, and their ├╝ber-creepy professor, Mr. Rock, with whom she becomes horribly obsessed.

I thought: Oh, the mixed feelings! Where do I begin?

First things first: GREAT name for a main character. Lilith's name was my favorite thing about this book. Second things second: I'm not gonna lie, I got sucked into this page turner of a vampire novel. I've read the Twilight Saga, a few of the Sookie Stackhouse books, and some of Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles, and I liked them all in spite of myself. So I guess I need to stop poo-poohing and rolling my eyes when I think/talk about Vampire literature.

The Last Jewish Virgin brings a few cool new things to the Vamp table: some light feminism and Jewish culture. Frankly, I thought the feminism was an uncomfortable stretch given the vampirey context, but I really liked the Judaica. Unlike True Blood and Twilight, this book doesn't try to humanize or soften the vampire love interest character; Ms. Eidus lets monsters be monsters, and so Lilith doesn't feel cuddly and sympathetic toward vampires. That was a nice change, and a throwback to the gothic vampire tradition.

Here's a little question for you, dear reader: Do you ever need to remind yourself to breathe? I don't, but Lilith does. And so does Bella Swan. WHY do writers write characters who have problems with their autonomic nervous systems? I do not understand this and I find it annoying. But that's just a little thing. The real problem is that The Last Jewish Virgin isn't a great book. The characters are flat and there are too many descriptions of outfits that will seem dated in 5 years. But I loved the setting (New York City in some future where fashionistas regularly dress up as clowns and hookers) and the Jewishness (Lilith writes G-d). Another thing that really worked was Lilith's struggle to develop an identity separate from her mother while still maintaining their relationship.

Verdict: In between. Definitely don't throw it away, but I wouldn't put it proudly on your shelf, either. This one belongs in the drawer of your bedside table.

Reading Recommendations: Good beach read for those of us who wouldn't touch The Notebook with a ten-foot pole.

Warnings: As with any book that features virginity as a defining characteristic, one of the main tensions here is whether or not Lilith will be deflowered. So yeah, there's some sexy stuff, mostly descriptions of anatomy and arousal. A couple of swears, too.

What I'm reading next: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollen