"Braff skillfully illuminates the failures and charms of a broken family . . . Haunts long after the final page."
"A tumultuous family drama . . . the glimpse [Braff] offers of these strange and usually closed institutions makes for interesting and enlightened reading." San Francisco Chronicle
"Although Peep Show could be a heavy-handed family drama, Braff chooses to keep the story light, sketching several funny but poignant scenes . . . The comic thrust, however, never detracts from the novel's intimate peek into a divided family." BookPage
The lurid red cover and title might lead readers to expect a smutty novel driven by shock value, but instead Braff (The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green) delivers a sensitive coming-of-age story. It's 1975, and readers are peeping into the private lives of high school grad David Arbus and younger sister Debra. They're the subjects of a tug-of-war between two parents they need and two parental lifestyles they can't completely embrace. Mom is a convert to Hasidic Judaism, and Dad is co-owner of an aging Times Square burlesque theater transitioning into peep shows and hard-core pornography. Neither parent can compromise, so the kids will be forced into hard choices. Capturing time, cultures, and place, Braff finds both the absurd humor and sad costs of two worlds that, despite their polar opposition, share the traits of extremism. David is a likable, believable protagonist, and even the dueling parents are empathetic. Pages fly by as family secrets unspool. VERDICT Only a slightly rushed ending detracts from a deeply affecting book. Highly recommended.—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Braff’s second novel (after The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green) is a straightforward family drama set amidst an extreme clash of cultures. In the mid 1970s, 16-year-old David Arbus is caught between his mother, whose Hasidic faith is becoming more and more central to her life, and his father, who runs a Times Square porn theatre. A seemingly modest act of rebellion makes David’s choice for him, and he quickly finds himself enmeshed in the business of adult entertainment. While his increasingly ill father resists innovations like peep booths and in-house blue movies, David takes photography gigs and tends to his dad. His attempts to maintain a relationship with his sister bring David into sporadic contact with his mother, but rather than reconciling, mother and son only grow further apart. Braff brings together two very different cultures with sympathy for both, but the slim novel leaves little room to adequately develop each member of the family, and, as a result, the story doesn’t quite sing. Nevertheless, David and his parents present an intriguing contrast in the struggle to uphold a set of values and the painful necessity of compromise. (June)
A New Jersey family breaks up, and an unhappy teenager finds his vocation amid Times Square sleaze in the mid-1970s. The Arbuses used to be the kind of affluent, assimilated suburban Jews that Braff anatomized in his brutally funny debut, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (2004)-except that Martin made a living running burlesque joints, and wife Miriam was one of the strippers before she had two kids. Now, in the spring of 1975, she and 15-year-old Debra are about to become baalai teshuva, converts to a Hasidic sect, while Martin and 17-year-old David seethe in disbelief. David's narration shows him struggling with his mother, who wants him to "embrace the life I've found." He can't, but he's not happy living with his father in Manhattan, where burlesque is giving way to hardcore peep shows and sex-toy shops. Martin refuses to adapt to changes he finds repulsive, though business associates are making unheard-of profits and the old ways are money-losers. Miriam wants to keep her daughter away from her secular ex-husband and son, and David's efforts to stay in touch lead to a disastrous Atlantic City jaunt with Debra, a Hasidic school friend, Martin and his stripper girlfriend, who puts makeup on the two girls. Miriam, enraged, won't forgive David even at Martin's hospital bedside after he's diagnosed with cancer. Flash forward to 1977, when live peep shows are being squeezed out by video porn, and David's photos of Times Square hang in the Sixty-Niner Diner: "an actual museum inside a dildo shop." He's still pining for his mother, and it's one of Braff's great achievements that we understand this. Miriam is often cruel as she clings to reassuring rules, but she's also miserable andconflicted, not knowing how to integrate her love for her son with the life she's chosen. The novel ends on the day of 17-year-old Debra's wedding, with the rabbi brokering a detente that readers will hope grows into lasting reconciliation for these touchingly vulnerable, painfully recognizable characters. Humane, compassionate and very moving.