The Barnes & Noble Review
Ben Schrank, who made his debut in 1999 with Miracle Man, has a penchant for exploring the peaks and valleys of the human psyche. This, his sophomore novel, uses the mystical legend of the Golem -- a clay statue given life to defend persecuted Jews in 16th-century Prague -- as the solder for an interpersonal, dysfunctional matrix forged of lust, brutality, longing, and betrayal.
For the narrator, divorced doctoral student Mike Zabusky, the Golem is both friend and fiend, and the thrust of his doctoral thesis, which he’s writing under the auspices of his domineering, controlling adviser, Matthew Weingarden. What Mike doesn’t realize is that neither he nor his love interest, Katherine Staresina, can escape Weingarden’s prickly clutches even in the midst of their most torrid sexual throes. However, once the hapless student’s father commits suicide, and the course of his affair with Katherine -- who is wild, frustrating, and scarred by her sister’s murder some years ago -- spins to the outer limits of chaos, Mike must ascertain who, or what, is in control of his life.
Through intense character interplay and bright, uncluttered prose, Schrank captures all the competitiveness, claustrophobia, and codependence that sometimes prevail between student and mentor, lover and lover. Unmitigated male urges that are easily ridiculed -- everything from ardent impromptu copulation to indiscriminate destruction -- are endowed by the author with a kind of ignoble dignity and a regal wretchedness. While downright callous and sadistic creatures are seemingly given free rein here, sympathetic humanity, however controlled and confused, achieves a countervailing power: the will to succeed. Ultimately, Consent is a story of hope. (Will Romano)
A spicy, turbulent Manhattan love story, Schrank's second novel (after Miracle Man) incorporates sexual passion, familial strife, crucial secrets and several kinds of obsession. At a party, small talk turns to heavy petting for abruptly intimate strangers Mike Zabusky, a divorced, 31-year-old graduate student, and a sexy, secretive domestic violence lawyer, Katherine Staresina, but their romantic future is dubious from the start. A fluctuating cat-and-mouse game of infatuation ensues: Katherine retreats, Mike obsessively stalks her, and the steamy sex resumes. But Mike's world is suddenly shaken by the news that his stock market-savvy father has committed suicide. Their relationship has deteriorated over the years, especially after the father's messy divorce and some costly financial slips. Mike's attention is diverted from the ever-elusive Katherine (whose own sister was murdered many years ago) to his family's house of secrets in Roosevelt, Long Island, and in his search for answers he uncovers a heap of violently broken furniture, unpaid debts and the news that Dad's distraught girlfriend, Sarah Jane, had left him just weeks before his death. Running alongside the busy narrative is a curious subplot involving Mike's doctoral thesis on the golem, a numinous monster in Jewish folklore, and some forced interactions with his disturbingly influential thesis adviser, Matthew Weingarden. Though the narrative is sometimes an odd hybrid of fiction and folklore, any hint of incongruity is tempered by skillful plotting and equal amounts of tension, romance and fascinating, well-researched Jewish mysticism. Schrank complements his intriguing domestic drama with characters (both main and supportive) as intelligent, realistic and provocative as the story they propel, as he continues to demonstrate his powerhouse potential. (Mar. 19) Forecast: Its sleek, cinematic plot and cool, 30-something characters could fast-track this book to Hollywood. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Nothing is going right in Mike Zabrusky's life. He's terminally stalled in his dissertation about the Golem, a mythological creature in Jewish folklore, much to the displeasure of his adviser, Matthew Winegarden, the foremost scholar of medieval Jewish studies at the university. In addition, his initially ecstatic relationship with Katherine, a domestic violence attorney whom he met at one of Matthew's parties, has turned sour. Katherine plays approach/avoidance games almost immediately, first inviting him into her life and then rejecting him, which fills him with dismay. Finally, soon after Mike meets Katherine, his father kills himself, and Mike realizes that what is most important to him is understanding what compelled his father's suicide: a broken heart, bankruptcy, or perhaps something of which Mike is unaware? The major flaw in this second novel (after Miracle Man) is that Schrank never succeeds in bringing these various plot strands together, so that Mike the student, Mike the lover, and Mike the son all seem like different people. The character of Katherine never rises above stereotype (like Denise in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, she is the daughter in a dysfunctional family who has trouble committing to men), so it's impossible to discern why Mike is attracted to her. For comprehensive public library fiction collections only. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/02.] Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A melancholy account of a young man's attempt to discover the meaning of his father's death-and the path of his own future. Schrank (Miracle Man, 1999) begins his tale on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the erstwhile Jewish ghetto that has gone through several incarnations since most of the kosher delis closed down. It is now the home turf of one Michael Zabusky, a graduate student at City University working on a dissertation about the golem (the mythical man-like monster created by Rabbi Loeb in 16th-century Prague to be the "avenger of the Jews"). Mike has the good fortune early on to meet the beautiful Katherine Staresina (a domestic-violence lawyer who obligingly introduces herself at a party and takes Mike into the bathroom for some quick but heated sex), who is very appealing in a shiksa sort of way. This is a family weakness, apparently, for Mike's father Jeff also hooked up with a gentile after his divorce-and neither he nor Mike's mother can understand why he is wasting his time with this Jewish Studies shtick. Mike is not really sure himself, but soon his career confusion is eclipsed by domestic shock when his father dies, apparently by his own hand. Jeff Zabusky was a stockbroker who had overextended himself and got caught when the markets took a dive. He also was in love with Sarah Caldwell, who'd begun to keep her distance from him. Which was the cause of his final despair? While trying to figure this out, Mike also fights to keep his father's house in upstate New York from the bank. And Katherine has abruptly said that she can no longer see him. With a sharp sense of his own solitude pressing on him, Mike could be forgiven for his fantasies of creating a golem of his own.But he's no Rabbi Loeb. Intelligently done: a nice kaleidoscope of emotion, history, and regret.