FORESKIN'S LAMENT by Shalom Auslander (Riverhead/Penguin), 310 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NN
Except for Woody Allen's joke in Deconstructing Harry - I won't go into it at length, but the punchline is "Records were made to be broken" - writers tend not to use the Holocaust as a source of humour.
But here comes Shalom Auslander's comic memoir Foreskin's Lament, which contains some outrageous commentary on one of last century's most traumatic human disasters.
That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the strengths of this series of reminiscences by a man raised and tormented inside an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. Mum is a typically forebearing doormat for Dad, who may beat up the kids but adheres strictly to all the laws set out in the Torah.
None of this rigour makes any sense to Shal, who emerges from this background angry and alienated. Oh, and terrified that God is going to get him - probably with some hideous comeuppance related to his wife, Orli's, pregnancy.
It's there, in Auslander's fear, that we get the nub of what could have been a great book, but he never really deals with his own belief system. He doesn't fully explore the complexities of his consciousness that he himself exposes. On the one hand, he's wholly irreverent; on the other, he obviously still believes.
Instead, we get lots of rebellious behaviour: shopping at the mall on the Sabbath, sucking back Big Macs on the sly, masturbating to porn in ways that would make Portnoy blush. Some of it is very funny - and give credit to the author for taking risks with the Nazi-related material - but Auslander doesn't take the personal risks that could have made this memoir way more compelling.
As it is, he takes aim at some pretty easy targets.