Responsible Men

Overview

Max Wolinsky is a forty-one-year-old, ethically challenged salesman from a family of mostly upstanding salesmen. He longs to become a better son and a better father, but when he returns home to Philadelphia for his son Nathan's bar mitzvah, he knows it won't be easy. For one thing, it means going to his former home to see his ex-wife, who's now living with the gardener he once hired. It means facing his unhappy son's complaints - Nathan is particularly upset about being forced to join a troop of kosher Boy ...
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Overview

Max Wolinsky is a forty-one-year-old, ethically challenged salesman from a family of mostly upstanding salesmen. He longs to become a better son and a better father, but when he returns home to Philadelphia for his son Nathan's bar mitzvah, he knows it won't be easy. For one thing, it means going to his former home to see his ex-wife, who's now living with the gardener he once hired. It means facing his unhappy son's complaints - Nathan is particularly upset about being forced to join a troop of kosher Boy Scouts. It also means hearing his father, Caleb, plead for him to move back to Philly from Florida. And it means trying to reconnect with Uncle Abe, once the family's most charismatic salesman, who hasn't been able to speak coherently since his stroke.

If Max can be civil to his ex-wife, listen to his son, and pull off one last scam so his father and uncle can live a better life, everything just might turn out all right. What Max doesn't know is that Uncle Abe has his own master plan for the family.

Responsible Men is by turns funny, poignant, and wise. Schwarzschild gets inside the hearts of men in prose that is both skillful and authentic.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wrapped up inside this debut novel about a shady salesman is a warm tale of father-son reconciliation. Like his father, Caleb, Max Wolinsky is a salesman-but he's always had a bit of the con in him, starting with his college days scalping tickets in his hometown of Philly. The bright point of Max's life was his marriage to Sandy and the birth of their son, Nathan, but now Max and Sandy are divorced, and Max is relegated to dropping in from Key Largo for his son's Philadelphia bar mitzvah. Caleb no longer sells, but spends his days taking care of his brother Abe, who has been left nearly mute by a stroke. Even 13-year-old Nathan has it tough: his grandfather is pressuring him to join a kosher Boy Scout troop instead of letting him play baseball. As soon as he lands in town, Max starts a scam involving shares in a nonexistent retirement community-a scam that runs him afoul of some nasty former partners-in-crime. But hope is on the horizon, too, in the form of Nathan's scoutmaster Mervyn Spiller, who has an elaborate scheme to import cheap Boy Scout uniforms from China. If some of these plot elements feel a bit too convenient, Schwarzschild makes up for it with evocative descriptions of his low-rent Philadelphia setting. Worn-out diners, bunker-like synagogues, no-frills bowling alleys, he clearly knows his terrain. Agent, Dorian Karchmar. (Apr. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Life gets complicated for a con man with a conscience in a thrilling first novel that's family drama with a strong suspense element. Max Wolinsky is back in Philadelphia for his son Nathan's bar mitzvah. It's been a year since Max took off for Florida, after wife Sandy left him for the gardener. Max is staying with his father, Caleb, and his uncle Abe, a stroke victim. Both brothers used to be textiles salesmen, and Max, a college dropout, had joined them for a while before crossing the line into small scams; right now, he's about to sell some nonexistent real estate to a prosperous Philly couple, the Goulds. Max has his rules: Don't hurt anybody physically; don't leave anyone destitute. Unfortunately, he knows people who are less scrupulous. Johnny Sklarman, a messed-up former college buddy, and his thuggish associate Dexter want a piece of the action. Then there's Spiller, a businessman who's also the scoutmaster at Nathan's temple. Spiller has a big project cooking, evidently legit, and Johnny and Dexter are sniffing around that, too. Meanwhile, Max, a fast worker, has started dating an attractive local woman, Estelle. Schwarzschild keeps the story moving while deepening his family portrait. Family members protect each other with kindnesses large and small, forming a lifeline to the next generation. There's the original Wolinsky, from Odessa, who battled thugs himself; there's the brace of salesmen, Abe dreaming big, Caleb more "old school," going by the book. Now Nathan, after his bar mitzvah, is a "responsible man" too, grilling his father in a scene so raw it hurts. For Max is at the center, tempted by easy money but willing to start over. His soul hangs in the balance through turnsof plot and bare-knuckled violence, internal and external dramas both packing a wallop. From a complicated business deal to a teenager's first kiss, Schwarzschild works with the quiet authority of a master. This is one terrific debut.
The San Francisco Chronicle
“[Responsible Men] combines suspense, drama and comedy to show the foibles and trespassings of a man struggling with all the usual ethical questions, and then some.” — San Francisco Chronicle
Pages Magazine
“Think Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Now add to that brief list Responsible Men. . . . Eminently readable, frequently hilarious, and always deeply moving.”—Pages magazine
Entertainment Weekly
"Early in Schwarzschild's marvelous debut novel, Max Wolinsky issues a warning: 'Let the buyer beware.' But it's impossible to avoid falling for Max, even if he is a small-time con....That's how appealingly the author has designed our hero, not to mention his cohorts."
Entertainment Weekly
Chicago Tribune
“Schwarzschild writes . . . with compelling insight and emotional power. It is a rare authorial gift.”—Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565125438
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/8/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Edward Schwarzschild is the author of Responsible Men, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, a Book Sense Notable Pick, and finalist for both the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Samuel Goldberg and Sons Foundation Prize for Jewish Fiction. He is an associate professor at the University at Albany, SUNY, and a fellow at the New York State Writers Institute.
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