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The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green Paperback – October 9, 2004
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I read it compulsively, rooting every step of the way for its flawed and fractious characters. --Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone
Rich, moving and very funny... Readers will adore Jacob Green, but Braff's greater accompishment is describing the boy's complex relationship with his father so well that we are forced to see the cruel, self-obsessed Abram as some-thing more than a mere monster of an ego. --Booklist, starred review, Top 10 First Novel of 2004
Scarifyingly funny debut... Painfully honest and surprisingly compassionate... Compulsively readable. --Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Joshua Braff was raised in New Jersey and now lives in Lafayette, CA with his wife and two children. He is a graduate of the St. Mary's College MFA program and is the author of the novels The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, Peep Show; and The Daddy Diaries. Visit Joshua Braff's site for more information.
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If you add up all the slang terms (there’re 27) and then multiply this number by 15, you probably end up somewhere in the vicinity of how often teenage boys think about getting laid. That’s nearly 17 times an hour. Am I exaggerating? I wish I were. And it doesn’t really matter if your father is half-crazy and your mother decides to start boning her psychology professor, a teenage boy can still dream of a better life. Even if your nanny doesn’t feel the same way about you, you can still enjoy the view and keep the more X-rated thoughts to yourself and have wet dreams in the privacy of your bedroom.
THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN reminded me of a dysfunctional family on steroids. When I reached the end, I had developed an even greater appreciation for my own upbringing, and it was hard not for me to consider myself lucky. Sure, I could bemoan my own familial problems, or my own teenage drama (rather mild in comparison), or the skirmishes my brother and I experienced on multiple occasions, but none of those thoughts crossed my mind. Instead, amusement crossed my lips, as character after character acted out in the craziest manner, and I found myself hanging on for the ride.
Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
The plot was not predictable, which was refreshing.
The dad was a bit too neurotic, though, a caricature of a controlling father, especially when he demanded hugs from his son, and the abuse made me uncomfortable.
I enjoyed the realistic interplay between the main character and his older brother. Details about the Jewish traditions interested me as well, especially when contrasted against non-Jewish society and how they interplay. Also, rebellion against family values and traditions seemed realistic and thought-provoking, though mom seemed distant and detached from the plight of her kids. A little more motive would have helped me see her as 3D instead of just self-absorbed and emotionally beat up by her controlling husband.
Decent plot, smooth writing. I enjoyed the book, not for everyone but a good read for people interested in exploring family dynamics.
It's not bad enough that Jacob Green has a father like Abraham, a man so narcissistic that his need for self-aggrandizement operates as a black hole in the family. Self-centered, smug and prone to violent verbal and physical outbursts, Abraham exists greedily as the center of his family's universe. Jacob wrestles with a gnawing sense of inadequacy, fostered in part by his father's insistence that Jacob attend a private Jewish school, where the child's uncommon knowledge of Hebrew is burnished but his treatable disabilities are ignored, left to foster an ever-growing sense of inferiority in the young adolescent.
Jacob knows how pathetic he is. "I'm a bar mitzvahed junior high student with braces, a bedtime and a father so far up my [behind] you can see him performing in my pupils." Jacob longs to be like his rebellious older brother Asher, whose Hebrew name means "happiness." Asher has "a girlfriend with stone-washed jeans and tobacco breath" who performs sexual acts on demand. Asher drinks, smokes dope and draws licentious pictures of rabbis performing ungodly acts on pigs and lobsters. What Jacob knows of himself is not good. He has a learning disability at a time when most "uninformed teachers think he's stupid." His substandard spelling launches his father into paroxysms of rage. Failing in school, Jacob will "return to a home where his father has zero patience for a son with limitations."
Instead of nurturing his son, Abraham torments him. "Tortured and embarrassed" by Jacob, Abraham "will literally hover over Jacob and wait for him to fail." It doesn't matter if his son can't write proper thank-you notes or find the ability to master multiplication tables. In a perversely gratifying manner, Abraham gets off on his son's failures; he relishes the chance to "demonstrate how grotesque failure really looks, feels, is."
Yet, "Unthinkable Thoughts" is an uproariously joyous novel. Life seethes underneath and as a result of the Green family's turmoil. Jacob's introduction to sex, blithely facilitated by a live-in nanny, is every early-adolescent boy's wildest fantasy come alive. The quirks, paradoxes and contradictions of suburban Jewish culture thrive under Braff's exquisite descriptive passages. If Asher as an older brother appears nihilistic and destructive, he also offers an unspoken and subtle message about survival and personal integrity to his younger brother. Even Jacob's mother mounts enough courage to give an Ibsen-like denunciation of her woeful New Jersey life.
It is the braided interplay between sorrow and joy, hopelessness and belief, pain and promise that gives "The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green" such poignancy. Whether it be Jacob's recounting of the rigid (and often preposterous) rules of the household or Asher's resort to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, the novel has satisfying energy. Joshua Braff has created the most improbable of heroes and has entrusted his readers with the opportunity to laugh through tears.
Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life: A Memoir is afar better literary experience and vastly outshines Braff's offering, which reads more like a screenplay than a novel. Gee, I wonder why?