With more than half a million copies of her novels sold, Naomi Ragen has connected with the hearts of readers as well as reviewers who have met her work with unanimous praise. In The Saturday Wife, Ragen utilizes her fluid writing style--rich with charm and detail--to break new ground as she harnesses satire to expose a world filled with contradiction.
Beautiful, blonde, materialistc Delilah Levy steps into a life she could have never imagined when in a moment of panic she decides to marry a sincere Rabbinical student. But the reality of becoming a paragon of virtue for a demanding and hypocritical congregation leads sexy Delilah into a vortex of shocking choices which spiral out of comtrol into a catastrophe which is as sadly believeable as it is wildly amusing.
Told with immense warmth, fascinating insight, and wicked humor, The Saturday Wife depicts the pitched and often losing battle of all of us as we struggle to hold on to our faith and our values amid the often delicious temptations of the modern world.
Like Emma Bovary, Delilah Goldgrab longs for a better life. A Queens yeshiva girl, Delilah is prayerfully remorseful after fornicating with young, opportunistic Yitzie Polinsky, and quickly marries mediocre rabbinical student Chaim Levi, who is unable to provide her with a house, much less the glossy upper-middle-class life she longs for. When Chaim accepts a position as the rabbi of an affluent Connecticut congregation, Delilah has the opportunity to indulge her ideas about happiness as the congregation's rebbitzin, with deliciously disastrous consequences. It's hard to like selfish, clueless Delilah or anyone else here: the pleasure of this novel is in its mercilessness, with Ragen (The Covenant) raising the stakes until the very end. (Aug.)
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St. Martin's Press
August 06, 2007
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Excerpt from The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragen
The thing people never understood about Delilah was that she always considered herself the victim of a painfully disadvantaged childhood, something that mystified her hardworking, upwardly mobile parents. There were few who knew how deeply she mourned her endless humiliations: winter clothes chosen from picked-over reduced racks in January sales instead of shiny new in autumn; a sweet sixteen celebrated in a bowling alley instead of in a hotel with a live band; Passover seders at home prepared by her sweating mother instead of in the dining room of exclusive resorts; summers lying on the public beach instead of trips to Israel and Europe. A childhood of last year's Nikes, drugstore sunglasses, fifteen-dollar haircuts, and do-it-yourself French manicures whose white line was always crooked. . . .
On the rare occasions that she sat in self-judgment, such as before the Yom Kippur fast, she never felt these longings marked her as selfish, materialistic, or shallow. On the contrary, she considered herself an idealist, someone focused on the really important things in life: true happiness, true love. As she saw it, she was simply being honest with herself. And someone who "really loved her" would be the kind of person who would stop at nothing to help her overcome the trauma of her youth, her mother's cheap fashion accessories--those fake pearls, those nine-karat gold amethyst rings. Someone who "really loved her" would understand and appreciate how profoundly she needed a house, not an apartment, preferably with a swimming pool, in addition to business-class jaunts to five-star resorts in the Caribbean and Hawaii.
She felt this way despite all the best efforts of our synagogue and schooling to convince us of the fleeting worth of material things, as opposed to the eternal reward--in this life and the next--of spiritual attainments.
In general, Delilah's relationship to religion was somewhat complex. She wasn't a natural rebel. She actually loved the elaborate meals, the dressing up for the synagogue, the socializing afterward. On the other hand, she absolutely refused to accept the fact that bearded rabbis had the right to decide for her how long her skirts and sleeves would be, what she could and couldn't read, or watch on TV or in the movies, or what kind of dates she could have (i.e., serious ones, leading to early marriages, as opposed to frivolous recreational ones like riding roller coasters in Playland).
Like most people, she snipped and tugged and restitched her religion to make it a more comfortable fit. She didn't feel guilty about this. Why should she, she told herself, when the rabbis themselves had done a good deal of tailoring? Take the relationship between the sexes. On the one hand, the Bible taught that men and women were both created in God's image as equals, but on the other, Jewish law was male chauvinist in the extreme, notwithstanding millennia of rabbinical apologetics to disprove the obvious.
Men were the leaders, high priests, rabbis, judges. While rabbis claimed that they were simply expounding on eternal laws derived from God-given sacred texts, the laws always seemed to come out to the men's advantage. For example, sitting shiva. During the seven days of mourning for a parent, wife, or child, rabbinical law said a man wasn't permitted to do anything; he had to be served and taken care of. But if a woman was sitting shiva--surprise!--the same law said she was allowed to get up and wash the floor and cook dinner.
Despite these feelings, Delilah never considered herself a feminist, refusing to join those of us who railed against being banned from donning a prayer shawl and phylacteries or from learning Talmud. She'd just roll her eyes and yawn. "That's all I need. More religious obligations."
The biblical heroines she admired were not the tough, powerful matriarchs, but Esther, who'd soaked in precious bath oils for six months, mesmerizing the king and becoming queen of Persia; and Abigail, who sent war-weary King David camel-loads of food and drink, thereby giving her tightfisted husband, Nabal, a fatal heart attack, thus leaving herself rich and free to marry David, which she was only too happy to do. To Delilah's thinking, these were stories with a deeply spiritual message for women.
Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir bored her. Equal wages were all right, but it was better if your husband earned enough so that you never, ever had to work if you didn't want to. Truth be told, her vision of the perfect world would have been a party in Gone with the Wind where women wore ball gowns to barbecues and men brought them plates of delicious food; a place where all women had to do was smile and be pretty and men fell all over themselves to please and amuse them.