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My Old Man Hardcover – August 31, 2004
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
In My Old Man, sex columnist Amy Sohn's second novel, protagonist Rachel Block is a rabbinical school dropout who takes a bartending job in her Brooklyn neighborhood where she picks up where she left off--counseling the sick, weary, and wasted. What begins as an amusing tale of self-deprecating soul-searching rapidly turns into a series of salacious sex scandals, adulterous encounters, and the occasional book club gathering for post-menopausal mothers.
My Old Man essentially revolves around two congruent affairs, the first being Rachel's involvement with Hank Powell, a famous screenwriter old enough to be her father. The second affair actually involves Rachel's father, who is cheating on her mother with Liz, Rachel's upstairs neighbor and sex-obsessed best friend. As the novel progresses, Rachel's father strikes up a friendship with Hank, which leads to an odd doubles tennis match and a pasta lunch afterwards between this unlikely foursome. ("I didn't know which was more upsetting: that I was eating post-tennis lunch with my father, his mistress, and my fifty-one-year-old lover or that in the process my dad had discovered my penchant for being strung up to the ceiling.") However, once Rachel's mother stops folk dancing long enough to realize her husband isn't doing all those sit-ups for his health, the real drama starts and Rachel is forced to face the reality of her parents' crumbling marriage.
While Sohn's observations of single life in the city (and the boroughs) are obviously witty and often make for engaging anecdotes, readers may find it difficult to sympathize with any of her relatively pathetic characters. However, lucky for us, Sohn's voice is appealing enough to keep readers engaged for most of the novel. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
Sex columnist Sohn's second novel mines the same territory as her 1999 debut, Run Catch Kiss, and her popular columns in New York Press and New York magazine—basically Sex and the City (for which Sohn wrote a companion guide) without the over-the-top glamour or under-the-skin kindness of the heroines. The laughs—which Sohn certainly provides—tend to be of a guilty sort, inspired by too-easy stereotypes (of Brooklynites, "theaterfucks," the French, etc.). Rachel Block, a 26-year-old rabbinical school dropout–turned–bartender in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up, is having a "quarterlife crisis," looking for love and a new life direction. She thinks she's found both in Hank Powell, a famous indie-film producer old enough to be her dad. As their "relationship" (a series of sexual encounters, each more degrading than the last) progresses, Rachel learns that her father is having an affair with her young neighbor. Sohn describes both pairings with plenty of salacious details, but the book falters under the weight of pronouncements about bourgeois values, family dynamics and May-December relationships ("It's postmodern primal," says Powell. "Your dad's having sex with a surrogate you while you're down here with a surrogate him!"). Rachel, alternately funny, narcissistic and pathetic, can be difficult to root for, and the book's ending long oversteps the bounds of believability.
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Seriously, though, this book is poorly written, and none of the characters are in the least bit likeable (except Jasper). The book revolves heavily around Rachel's relationship with the aging screenwriter Powell, who seems to have no appeal at all except for his once-demonstrated ability to order a decent bottle of wine. He isn't funny, or interesting, or caring, or any other quality that might make him remotely appealing. He also has a very weird accent that phases in and out, which I think was supposed to create a more 'interesting' character, but mostly I found it distracting. Powell's shortcomings as a human being and a love interest are okay, however, because Rachel is almost as unlikeable, and therefore I didn't care if she met a nice guy or not. I also didn't care about her shoes, hairstyle, outfit, neighbor, career, or feelings.
I finished this book and felt angry. I don't usually get irrationally upset at my fiction, but this book got to me. I hated it for its name dropping, and its unsexy sex scenes, and its totally overwhelming portrayal of upper class New York Jews. Please do not waste your time with this book. Or, at least, don't spend money on it.