Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At first blush a conventional feminist tale about a short, plump, suburban Long Island Jewish housewife who overcomes self-hatred and chucks off her philandering husband, Dworkin's novel is more than funny enough to spice up its comfort-food themes of self-esteem and self-discovery. Candy Shapiro, 35-year-old mother of two, discovers that her workaholic, condescending, "fascistically clean" husband, Martin, a gynecologist and surgeon, has been constantly unfaithful. She veers from castrating revenge fantasies to masochistic self-blame, turning ultimately to longtime family friend Orpheo Pastafino, an Atlantic city mobster. Dworkin, author of the novel Stolen Goods and the novelization of Desperately Seeking Susan, lets loose a colorful cast propelled by oddball characters: Abe Heimlich, an ex-rabbi turned comedian, is given to oracular prophecies during trance-like states; flamboyant black blues singer Alisette Legrand has a predilection for white men in general and for Abe in particular. Candy has an affair with a poor, ambitious, Israeli moving-man, and she assists the campaign of a rich, chic environmentalist would-be congresswoman. The action is as over-the-top as the characters: a terrorist bomb explodes in Jerusalem; Candy's draft-dodger brother Alex is haunted by the ghost of their sibling, a doctor killed in Cambodia; a tsunami rocks the boardwalk. Eventually, however, Dworkin's tone fails her: although she appears to be aiming for wicked satire, the narrative becomes more of a manic cartoon for grown-ups. (Oct.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Raised by her mother to be the Jewish wife of a wealthy Jewish doctor, preferably an irreplaceable surgeon, Candy Shapiro begins to redirect her energy into becoming a new person with a new purpose after finding out that her husband has been chronically unfaithful. The novel tracks the changes that take place in Candy's life and psyche and the equally momentous changes experienced by the novel's many interrelated characters. Filled with prophesies, ghosts, visions, and inexplicable occurrencese.g., when a massive tidal wave hits an Atlantic City boardwalk, the right eyeball of rabbi-turned-comedian Heimlich explodes as he spontaneously delivers an ancient Hebrew prophesythe novel borders on the surreal. Dworkin explores the debilitating effects of sexist and racist hate and stereotyping, perseverance in the face of such hate, and the ability of those divided by seemingly insurmountable differences to form the closest possible bonds. The result, both funny and tragic, demands rereading so that one can see how all the threads left dangling are tied up as the story reaches its conclusion. Highly recommended for all libraries.Rebecca A. Stuhr-Rommereim, Grinnell Coll. Libs., Ia.
Providence Sunday Journal
The Book of Proverbs tells us of a woman of valor, whose price is above rubies. "She gets up while it is still dark; She provides food for her family; She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands; She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hand to the needy." In her ceaseless, selfless spinning and toiling, she brings honor to her husband "at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land."
The Book of Candy tells us that this treasure or treasures is none other than the Jewish American Princess of Long Island butt of a thousand tasteless jokes. No one who reads Susan Dworkin's manifesto for this underestimated breed can ever again dismiss outright the overly made-up, diamond-encrusted suburban matron nibbling shrimp salad at the next table in her 10th book. Dworkin rescues her from the world's pity and her own self-loathing in 341 pages, dense and witty.
A book that stuffs Mafioso, white supremacists, Biblical prophecy, suicide, infanticide, gunrunners, AIDS and Haitian voodoo into the plot's thin envelope about a pampered Jewish housewife who discovers her worth shouldn't work this well. But Dworkin weaves the disparate story strands together just as her protagonist Candy Deal Shapiro arranges her hair into an elaborate triple French braid. Both are head-turning in their brilliantly symmetrical construction.
The story begins and ends at Orpheo Pastafino's opulent Imperial Hotel and Casino, where Candice Shapiro seeks sanctuary. She had married gynecologist Martin Shapiro, borne him two lovely children a son and daughter and made him a comfortable home. She leads a life of privilege in Gimbel's Inlet, devoting her spare time to shopping and Hadassah, a philanthropic organization of Jewish women. None of this has earned her husband's loyalty and respect, Candy discovers while trying to console one of Martin's patients. On the stoop of her Queens home, the woman explains that she beat up Dr. Shapiro after he coldly advised her to have a radical double mastectomy apparently without any recognition they had enjoyed a week-long affair several years earlier. In fact, Dr. Shapiro has been unfaithful to his wife for the entire length of their marriage, Candy learns.
This revelation propels her to the casino and into a succession of business ventures and personal adventures that connect enough characters to populate a Dickens novel, with names to match. (Candy's wise and plain mother, for example, is Maida Deal; the rabbi-turned comedian, who unconsciously expels a prophetic warning to men who ignore their women of valor, is called Heimlich.)
Unfortunately, Candy's newly discovered power cannot protect her from the darker forces threatening her family. She must return to Orpheo named for Orpheus, the mythical Greek poet and musician who almost rescues his wife from Hades. Dworkin leaves us with a little hope in the person of Candy's spunky daughter Ethel. Named after Ethel Merman, she seems well on her way to fulfilling that promise by the novel's end. Maybe, dreams Dworkin, the next generation of men will recognize their women of valor.
With a seamless blend of humor and sadness, Susan Dworkin documents the transformation of Candy from helpless Jewish American princess living on Long Island to a resilient, tough-minded heroine who calls her own shots. Predictably for a woman of her culture and class, Candy marries Martin Shapiro, a successful gynecologist addicted to extramarital affairs sometimes with his own patients. Candy is the perfect wealthy Jewish wife. She spends her time caring for her children and husband, entertaining in their plush home, attending Hadassah meetings, and generally doing as much charity work as possible. Favored by both parents, Candy led a sheltered childhood, protected from some of life's early injustices. On her first date she was shocked to realize that the contest her partner entered her in was an "ugly" contest. After all, at home she was beautiful. This humiliating experience taught her to expect little from the world, and to feel lucky for any male attention that came her way. To Candy, Martin was a prime catch. Dworkin sharply critiques the cultural politics reflected in Candy and Martin's marriage. Martin doesn't respect his wife; in fact, he is repulsed by her. Reflecting on the collapse of his marriage, Martin comes to think that his partnership with Candy "had been born under a sentence of death" because he entered the union with so much pre-existing hatred for her breed and class of woman." Martin's derogation of Candy turns out to be an insidious form of self-derogation. Successful business ventures and a loving Israeli man give Candy the strength to leave Martin. The novel's subplot, the passionate bond between Heimlich, an ex-rabbi now stand-up comedian, and Alisette, a black rock musician, reinforces Dworkin's theme about the unbiased power of love to bestow dignity and beauty in unexpected ways.
This fast-paced novel of Jewish manners by former Ms. magazine contributing editor and film-industry watcher Dworkin (Double De Palma, 1984, etc.; and Stolen Goods, a novel, 1987) starts out funny, grows passionate, complex, and ambitious, and ends on a tame, bitter note that leaves the reader wondering what all the fuss has been about.
Its heroine is the conventional but tough-as-nails Mrs. Candy Shapiro, a Long Island doctor's wife, mother of two, homemaker, president of her Hadassah chapter, who's creamily fat, dressed from head to toe by Saks, and not going to take it anymore: She's discovered that her widely respected husband Marty is cheating on her with numerous women, and she's arrived at the Atlantic City hotel casino owned by her father's powerful old friend, mafioso Orpheo Pastafino, to ask for "help and guidance." But she comes on a night of strange cataclysms, when brilliant stand-up comedian Heimlich goes into a trance and spouts a prophecy in Hebrew and loses his sight, just as a tidal wave rolls in, creating panic and destruction. Heimlich, a wonderful, crotchety, ironic man who's secretly in love with the casino's headlining star, Tina Turnerlike Alisette Legrand, gets shut up in a California hospice; and he and Alisette spend the next two years trying to find each other again, made especially difficult when Alisette is kidnapped and almost killed by a band of white supremacists. Meanwhile, Candy takes a lover, courts the friendship of an aspiring female politician named Carol O'Banyon, and, using her considerable organizational skills, arranges for a police raid on gunrunners keeping their contraband in her lover's rented house in Queens. Just as meaning promises to emerge from all of this, however (e.g., that women are the real soldiers in the war for peace and justice), another round of minor debacles breaks out, none of which are desirable or believable; cumulatively, they reduce Dworkin's magical realism to bathos and ennui.
High spirits, a cast of thousands: a near-miss.