Disappointment came swiftly after The Mysteries of Udolpho, and it came in the form of Shylock Is My Name by Howard Johnson. I won this book from Goodreads. I entered the drawing because the book is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which is one of my favorite plays to see staged or retold because of how the reception and reading of the play has changed over time. In case you didn’t know, this play was originally a comedy due to the rampant Antisemitism in Shakespeare’s time; they thought all of the awful things that happen to Shylock were just hilarious. Modern audiences view it as a tragedy. Fascinating stuff, right?
This book describes the genre as “Fiction-Literary.” One day I will learn not to read books that say that, but it is not this day. I am NEVER happen with modern books considered “literary.” To me, it seems that books given this moniker receive it solely because they have written a book where no single sentence makes sense on its own. If you like modern literary fiction, perhaps you should stop reading this review because it won’t be helpful to you.
Literary fiction just sounds like stream of consciousness writing. Unless you’re James Joyce, stop that. I want sentences that are beautiful and mostly grammatically correct. I want such exacting description that I can see the story that was written. I don’t want a bunch of nonsense spewed one fragment after another. That’s boring. Not to mention, my brain is too squirrelly to follow it; you better have a cohesive structure and an obvious direction if you want me to read your book.
The idea for this book was interesting because Jacobson sticks Shakespeare’s Shylock in modern times with a modern counterpart of Shylock, and they start working together (apparently. I didn’t make it that far). Portia’s equivalent Plurabelle made me want to rip out a pound of my own flesh, but I think that was the point. Jessica is still mostly absent and completely sucky as human being. I had some pretty strong feelings about the characters, and I wanted to know what happened to them. However, I just couldn’t get passed the writing. I gave it my usual three chapter try (If I can’t get into something by three chapters or three episodes, I give up and move on to something else. I am a much happier person since making this change in my life). The writing was too convoluted, and I started getting impatient and antsy. I read to relax, and if I’m starting to freak out because I can’t stay focused, the book has failed me, meaning it’s time to move on. I honestly felt the writer was trying too hard to be edgy and literary, and some of the things he was saying about Jewish people made me uncomfortable (not to mention his seeming obsession with circumcision). The only consistencies in the book were circumcision and a general dislike for all humans.
I just couldn’t do it, and I’m moving on to books a little more my style. Shylock Is My Name will be going either to the Little Free Library which I recently discovered just one street away from my house or to my favorite used bookstore. I don’t love it, but I am sure someone out there will. After all, every book its reader.