Gentile reader, and you, Jews, come too. Follow Sue William Silverman, a one-woman cultural mash-up, on her exploration of identity among the mishmash of American idols and ideals that confuse most of us—or should. Pat Boone is our first stop. Now a Tea Party darling, Boone once shone as a squeaky-clean pop music icon of normality, an antidote for Silverman’s own confusing and dangerous home, where being a Jew in a Christian school wasn’t easy, and being the daughter of the Anti-Boone was unspeakable. And yet somehow Silverman found her way, a “gefilte fish swimming upstream,” and found her voice, which in this searching, bracing, hilarious, and moving book tries to make sense of that most troubling American condition: belonging, but to what?
Picking apricots on a kibbutz, tramping cross-country in a loathed Volkswagen camper, appearing in a made-for-television version of her own life: Silverman is a bobby-soxer, a baby boomer, a hippy, a lefty, and a rebel with something to say to those of us—most of us—still wondering what to make of ourselves.
About the Author
Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, is also a Lifetime television movie. Her memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a professional speaker (suewilliamsilverman.com).
Table of Contents
Dear Gent[i]le Reader 1
The Pat Boone Fan Club 3
The Wandering Jew 15
The Mercurialist 27
Gentle Reader 29
The Endless Possibilities of Youth 32
Swimming Like a Gefilte Fish 48
For Jews Only 52
That Summer of War and Apricots 53
The Invisible Synagogue 66
Concerning Cardboard Ghosts, Rosaries, and the Thingness of Things 72
Prepositioning John Travolta 84
Gentle Reader 91
Galveston Island Breakdown: Some Directions 93
Gentle Reader 109
The Fireproof librarian 110
Fahrvergniigen: A Road Trip through a Marriage 133
Almond Butter in the Ruints 144
I Was a Prisoner on the Satellite of Love (Featuring Crow T. Robot, Star, Mystery Science Theater 3000) 151
See the Difference 171
The New Pat Boone Show 186
My Sorted Past 200
Gentle Reader 213
An Argument for the Existence of Free Will and/or Pat Boone's Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 214
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the song, "The Road to Bayamon," about a traveling carnival in Puerto Rico, Tom Russell introduces us to Gypsy, who "used to run a little shot-and-a-beer joint/ now she's a jockey on the Astro Ride/ she took me for a whirl one night/. it messed me up inside." That's pretty much the way you'll feel once you've finished Sue William Silverman's disturbed and disturbing memoir. Her work is a manic Astro Ride through shape- and time-shifting voices, visions and competing versions of herself and her grasp of reality. At times a glimpse into the mind and heart of a schizophrenic, at others a searing depiction of a soul, not lost, but never actually found, one ill-served by her parents, who brought her into the world and, apparently, emotionally abandoned her. Though the subtitle refers to her status as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, Silverman's story, and her crisis of identity is both broader and narrower than merely feeling different from those around her. Her parents gave her little sense of why she was different, and why that should be valued and embraced. Instead, they seemed content to ignore their faith and their ethnicity. Silverman seems to h ave had trouble doing the same, perhaps because she had no means of attachment to the life her parents led. This was no doubt due to her father's role as a sexual abuser, and her mother's, apparently, as an enabler. While it must be horrible to be sexually abused, it must be worse when your father manifests no outward signs of being a monster. How can you muster the courage to level a charge against him when it is unlikely anyone will believe it. Perhaps you, yourself, begin to question your own veracity. Perhaps it never happened. Perhaps your grasp of reality is just that frail? That Silverman's grasp on reality was in fact that frail is evident by the maelstrom of voices, tenses and narrative personae she throws at the reader. From first person present to second person past, third person, then back to first, when she breaches the narrative wall to directly address the "Dear Gent[i]le Reader," Silverman invites the reader to strap in on her carnival ride of a memoir. To be honest, her first person present tense was too painfully present. "It's the past," I wanted to shout at her. "leave it there." The present tense seemed awfully gimmicky, a little too, too, an awful lot of writer's workshop for my taste. But I persevered. I pushed past the gimmickry, I even survived "Prepositioning John Travolta," the chapter in which she illustrated her prepositional confusion. Frankly, that was almost unreadable. But as with some much of the book, this seemingly stream-of-conscious exposition was committed with a purpose. We are given a glimpse inside the mind of someone who has no idea of what her identity is or means. It's a fascinating portrait, as well as being a snapshot of an era. Her depiction of her long-distance love affair with Pat Boone, not as a predator, but as one who longs for his purity and decency, who envies his children their father, is surprisingly tender. She resists every temptation to mock this squeaky clean parody of the rock and roll legend. She humanizes his decency and avoids the mockery of the self-diagnosed sophisticate. When she meets the star backstage following a concert, Silverman gives us not just a portrait of the star, but for the first time, her own being begins to take shape. We learn there is in fact a there there, and we understand she is beginning to discover that for herself. She is real. She does have an identity. The Pat Boone Fan Club is a difficult, at times painful, but ultimately reaffirming read. You might wonder why I only gave it four stars (it would have been 3 1/2 if that had been possible). The answer is that five is a rare bird indeed. It's kind of like the first time they gave a "Perfect 10!!!" in Women's Gymnastics. It cheapened it. Now, if a girl doesn't get a 10, she has failed. I wouldn't want to see that happen with my judgment. The only books I would consider awarding five stars are "Growth of the Soil," by Knut Hamsun, and "Birds Without Wings," by Louis de Bernieres, and possibly "A Moveable Feast," by Ernest Hemingway, though only as a work of fiction.