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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Big Nap

On February 26, I wrote a mildly positive review of Nursery Crimes, by Ayelet Waldman. Because another novel in this series, The Big Nap, appeared to be more interesting, I decided (without great enthusiasm) to give it a read. I am pleased to report that this effort is distinctly more successful than Nursery Crimes, even though it has the same protagonist and the same basic formula: the Harvard-educated lawyer is still a stay-at-home mom, not the most promising premise for a story, even if she does turn out to be a (very) amateur detective as well, aided by her former prosecutorial experience.

Anyway, the most interesting aspect of The Big Nap is the interactions between the mainstream-Jewish protagonist and members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles, especially the Hasidic subculture. As happens when reading many good works of fiction, I learned a lot from this novel (though I believe that the Verbover branch of Hasidism is an invention of Waldman and/or her husband, Michael Chabon, since I can find no references to it outside of their respective novels). While The Big Nap is still a light novel, it definitely has more heft than its predecessor and I found it worth reading. Maybe it would have meant still more to me if I had ever had the experience of being a mother, but (un)fortunately I haven’t. Nevertheless, I still recommend it to fellow non-mothers if you want an easy-to-read detective novel with a multicultural Jewish theme.

By the way, the significance of the title’s apparent allusion to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (or perhaps it’s to the movies made from the Chandler novel) escapes me. Maybe it would help if I read the book or saw the film...

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