Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander is a modern novel with a dark subject matter. Solomon Kugel, desiring to start anew with his wife and son, moves to the famous for absolutely nothing town of Stockton, New York. Of course, this fresh start does not go according to plan. His dying mother is still, well, dying – without any sign of actually completely the process. Furthermore, her rants about her concentration camp days are getting a little excessive, considering she was never actually in one. And her tendency to hoard possessions forces Solomon to take an additional week off after their move to Stockton, so he can spend it moving her boxes to the attic. It is in this attic where his downhill slide goes from bad to worse. Solomon meets his very own relic of history, only now she is a bitter, foul-mouthed shrew constantly trying to write her next 32 million copy best seller.
Hope: A Tragedy is not a novel for the faint hearted. It is both a bitter and hilarious dark comedy about the tragedy of optimism and guilt. The main character, who hopes to suffocate to death in a house fire (because, hey, he’s an optimist), is a well-adjusted neurotic, morbid, bundle of nerves experiencing an ever increasing onslaught of troubles (financial, marital, maternal, and professional to name a few). If you think you can find humor in tragedy and take Auslander’s revision of history with a grain of salt, I would highly recommend his witty debut novel. It’s reminiscent of the best parts of Richard Russo’s Straight Man or Mohawk, a hilarious, dark examination of failing characters in a small town. So if you enjoy Russo as much as I do, give Auslander a try, it’s like Russo with a neurotic Jewish bent (and an unwanted houseguest).