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Responsible Men: A Novel Paperback – September 15, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Is there really such a thing as a responsible man? Max Wolinsky, a swindling salesman, finds himself forced to face this question when he revisits his Philadelphia stomping grounds. After a year of exile in Florida, following his wife's infidelity, Max returns to see his father and stroke-impaired uncle and to attend his son Nathan's bar mitzvah, but the trip goes sour when old associates want in on his latest scam. As Max gears up for a midlife crisis, young Nathan must deal with his mother's new relationship and with the peculiarities of his Jewish Boy Scout troop. While Nathan is stuck in a kosher camp during his mother's Hawaiian vacation with her lover, Max begins to question his own duplicity and meets a woman who might just keep him honest. An astute understanding of children of divorce coupled with a mature grasp of the pitfalls and pratfalls of adulthood bring depth to this debut. Schwarzschild's accomplished, no--nonsense prose captures one family's attempt at responsibility and reconciliation on the dingy, desperate Philly streets. Misha Stone
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; FIRST PAPEBACK EDITION edition (September 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565125436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565125438
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,200,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I rarely have the opportunity to read a novelists first work until long after I've read other works. Then, I am frequently disappointed.

Schwarzschild, however, has written a novel he will have to live up to in future work. It is populated with memorable (if sometimes not fully explored) characters who defy archetypes, making them that much more human.

Structurally, the novel is plot driven. The characters move from scene to scene quickly and each story arc feeds into the central story around the main character, Max's, return to Philadelphia.

There's a lot to love about this book. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a well-paced story populated by interesting characters with a hopeful (but not exactly happy) ending. There's much in this book to make you think about the human condition and to wonder about why we make the choices we make.
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Format: Hardcover
I wish simply to second the previous five-star reviews, which capture the value and values of this wonderful book. The many characters are insightfully drawn, and the author shows real affection for the main ones, foibles and all. The writing is superb, and the acknowledgments at the end -- to Tobias Wolff, John L'Heureux, ZZ Packer, William Kennedy, and others -- show that the author has had some excellent models. Sometimes first novels are described as "promising," but this one reveals a full-fledged talent. If Schwarzschild can follow this magnificent book with others of equal quality, he will become one of the major figures in American letters.
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Format: Hardcover
I didn't expect to like a book where the man character is a scam artist--but I did. Max Wolinsky returns to Philadelphia to attend his son's bar mitzvah. He also intends to pull off one last scam so he can pay for his aging father and uncle to move to a delux senior center. The story isn't about the scam itself, but about the relationships of the Wolinsky men, their hopes, dreams and mistakes. The book is full of warmth, humor and wonderful characters. As other reviewers have said, it is a book to read again and again. I look forward to more books from this writer.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ed Schwarzschild's debut novel is one I loved so much I read it twice. Through clear and precise prose, Schwarzschild manages to examine moral struggle on many levels. On the first read, I was swept away by the challenge of a character to make a new start after a dark past. To see a person in such a trap--driven by honorable intentions, yet haunted by a life of dishonor--was truly heartbreaking. Yet the book, on closer examination, also works on familial, historical and philosophical levels. And the more I read, the more I understood its sly humor. This dynamite books defies easy comaprison and must be taken on its own terms. If only all books created, animated and inhabited their own universes the way Responsible Men does.
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Format: Hardcover
Responsible Men tells the story of the Wolinsky family, Philadelphia men, all dealing with some type of loss: the death of a spouse, a divorce, a physical hardship. All are hindered by their setbacks, but throughout this fun, adventurous novel they learn how to grow and move forward. The characters' lives are detailed and often amusing: grandson Nathan wants to spend his summer playing baseball and instead is faced with the nuances of a kosher Boy Scout troop; son Max runs a con, hindered by his conscience; father Caleb cares for a brother disabled by a stroke; Uncle Abe dreams of mobility with a shiny new motorized scooter.

The story begins with Max Wolinsky returning home to Philadelphia to attend his son's bar mitzvah. While in town he's going to scam a couple so that he can make a quick buck to help out his father and uncle. Through shady run-ins with old acquaintances and confrontations with his ex-wife, we begin to understand Max Wolinsky. Along the way Max meets a woman who makes him want to be a better man. As the story unfolds, Nathan becomes a young adult and Max falls in love.

The story is told through the eyes of the Wolinsky men, each with their own distinct voice and perspective. Other great characters include a charming sage rabbi and a wise-cracking scoutmaster, Mervyn Spiller.

The story is compelling and touching, the characters are true, the insights are wise, and the messages of love, hope, and friendship are beautiful.

I was moved and inspired by the Wolinsky family. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
Responsible Men is a great example of what a novel should be. The prose is beautiful without being overwrought. The characters, despite their flaws, are extremely likeable and memorable. And the story keeps you glued to the pages.

Max Wolinsky and his family have their fair share of problems, and the book is ultimately about facing those problems, and making the best out of life. While Wolinky's path to the straight and narrow isn't necessarily the most direct route, Schwarzschild's chronicle of that path is what makes the book such a winner.
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