It was the subtitle that initially piqued my curiosity. When I saw Love with Noodles, my eye immediately hit on the four words beneath the title: "An Amorous Widower's Tale."
As a widow of 11 years, I was interested in the other side of the coin how Mars dealt with widowhood as compared to Venus, and Harry Freund's book instantly took me back to that fateful day on September 5, 1994, when my husband, press photographer Danny Landau, died of a heart attack. A sudden death is a traumatic experience at any time more so when it takes place on the first night of Rosh Hashana.
The funeral had to be postponed till after the holiday, and the man from the hevra kadisha discouraged me from getting a plot alongside that of my husband. "You're still young," he said. "You'll marry again."
By the time I rose from the shiva it was too late to insist. There were graves on either side of Danny's.
Although I was several years younger than stockbroker Dan Gelder, the hero of Freund's book, when I was widowed, what we had in common was an abiding love for our departed spouses, and an acute sense of loss when we found ourselves in social circles.
The fact that this book's central character is called Dan naturally kept me glued to this highly engaging volume. Most widowed people wonder how their partner would react in a reverse situation. So there I was, with a chatty, fast-paced narrative and the narrator was called Dan.
Widowers may mourn privately, but they don't get much of a chance to mourn publicly. All their friends and acquaintances are so busy trying to pair them off, that they barely have time to breathe. The same goes for divorced and single men.
Widows, divorcees and spinsters, on the other hand, are treated either as objects of pity or as threats. At a dinner table they are seldom seated next to the host, nor even between two married couples. They are usually relegated to the single women's end of the table.. .
Money, however, buys position, and the wealthy widow is less likely to find herself confined to the small talk of the hostess. The wealthy widow gets a seat of honor, and is introduced to the most eligible man in the room.
According to the blurb on the book's cover, Freund moves in the upper-crust New York social circles that he writes about. The book opens on Dan Gelder's 60th birthday, two years after the death of his wife, Ellen, to whom he was faithful in life and to whom he has thus far remained faithful in death. He doesn't particularly feel like celebrating, but some friends throw the party for him as a surprise. He gets wind of it, and not wanting to offend them, turns up. As they have done in the past, his friends have arranged for him to meet a reasonably attractive woman at least one who is sufficiently in the black as to allay suspicions that she might be after his money.
Dear old Dan, who till now has been the ideal, impeccable, sentimental widower, eventually realizes that he can't be celibate forever, and begins a series of bedroom romps, gravitating from one partner to another. His descriptions of these adventures, though vivid, are far from pornographic. Some are even hilariously funny.
His description of a reception prior to a gala dinner is not quite in the genre of Portnoy's Complaint, but contains a sense of familiarity in the stampede for the buffet tables that anyone who has ever been to a Jewish affair will recognize.
Dan has an only son Eric, who had a limited Jewish education. Nonetheless, when Eric decides to marry out of the faith, Dan is shocked. He tries to prevent the union but fails. He comes to accept his daughter-in-law as well as her parents and has them all over to his house on Seder night.
What greater display of tolerance could there be? Dan is silently grieving that he will not have Jewish grandchildren, while his Christian in-laws are also grieving in the knowledge that their grandchildren will not be what they once envisaged.
But everyone accepts the situation with stoicism and civility with the exception of one of Dan's other guests a self-hating Jewess who's into native American Indian culture. She also happens to be one of Dan's romantic partners.
To reveal more about the book would be unfair to the reader. Suffice it to say that it has been endorsed by a number of successful Jewish writers.
The end of the story appears to be predictable, but even the obvious contains an element of the unexpected just like life itself.
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