UMass grad’s novel a comic tribute to Jewish life, struggles of gender identity

  • “The Right Thing To Do At The Time”

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2018 2:55:12 PM


By Dov Zeller

Tiny Golem Press

Cross “Pride and Prejudice” with “Fiddler on the Roof,” move the plot to today’s New York City, throw in a Jewish trans guy as a main character, add various comedic moments and you have a recipe for “The Right Thing To Do At The Time,” a new novel by Pioneer Valley author Dov Zeller.

Zeller, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA program in writing, has substituted the somewhat hapless Ari Wexler for Jane Austen’s Lizzy Bennett, the beloved heroine of “Pride and Prejudice.” Ari has some things in common with Lizzy — his college professor mother is as sarcastic as Lizzy’s father is in “Pride and Prejudice,” for instance — but he’s considerably more frazzled than the determined and spirited Lizzy, who insists on marrying for love and not economic security.

Ari, a violinist who lacks confidence in his musical ability, has a job as a clerk at a music library that may soon be ending. And his love life is a mess, in part because he’s confused about what he wants: “He was allergic to (love), though, as is often the case, he found himself, therefore, craving it.”

His family responds to his gender issues by calling him a “noodle,” his father tries and fails to match him up with women, and his “Bubbie Pearl” — his grandmother — calls him not just an “everyday noodle” but an overcooked one.

Ari’s main solace in his life is his best friend, Itche Mattes. But when a famous actress comes to the city and sweeps Itche off his feet, Ari is even more at a loss.

Ari may have one chance at redemption when a unique music project falls into his lap. But he has to make a crucial choice: either stay in his stifling but safe comfort zone, or take a risk that could bring real joy and, yes, love to his life.

One reviewer calls “The Right Thing To Do At The Time” a comic tribute to Jewish life and the struggles of gender identity that also does a fine job of invoking the sharp commentary of “Pride and Prejudice.”

“Instead of balls and dinners, the characters cross paths at bar mitzvahs and seders, but the romance, the humiliation of tactless family members, and the biting observations of social types remain from Austen’s original. ... Like Austen or Mendele, Zeller brings his characters to a pleasant conclusion in which love conquers misunderstandings and parental meddling alike.”


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