You might regret reading this

Liz Spikol

"I Might Regret This,” the new book by Abbi Jacobson, co-creator of the TV show “Broad City,” begins with an essay that would fit nicely in the annals of Jewish neurotic writing (see: Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, et al.). The essay is called “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” and in it, Jacobson lists all of the catastrophic fates that could befall her if she dares to write a book.

These range from “all the pages somehow get numbered incorrectly!” to “no one buys the book!” Luckily for Jacobson, most of her fears are warrantless; the page numbers seem to be in order, and her last book, “Carry This Book,” became a New York Times bestseller. This one will no doubt sell briskly as well.

But one of her concerns is this: “Even though the book will be copy edited and proofread, my terrible grammar and lack of sophisticated vocabulary will shine through.” And that particular worry may be justified, unfortunately.

The book’s conceit is that the reader is traveling along with Jacobson as she goes on a cross-country road trip for three weeks, from L.A., where the Pennsylvania-raised comedian now lives, to Asheville, North Carolina, followed by Memphis, Marfa, Texas, and beyond. It’s a post-breakup, come-to-Moses kind of trip, with plenty of time for self-reflection and grappling with challenges like solo dining, staying at a B&B as a single person, and discovering truth and heartbreak during a cheesy aura reading in Sedona. 

Interspersed with the comical, self-lacerating memories and life-is-deep road-trip observations are illustrations of albums listened to along the way, movies watched and food consumed. It adds to the sense that we’re just peeking into Jacobson’s diary/sketchbook after she gets back home. 

Much of what Jacobson writes about is extremely relatable, especially for young women, and the breezy, on-the-move feel keeps us reading. But the writing itself is disappointing, and the punctuation, at times, is either nonexistent or confusing. There are inconsistent tenses and run-on sentences. Much of the book reads as though it was being dictated to Siri as Jacobson drove. There’s no artistry to her words, no turns of phrase that surprise or delight. It’s just thoughts. On a page. 

This is a shame because Jacobson has a lot of interest to talk about — love and loss, insecurities and the kinds of growing-up confusion that pretty much everyone can relate to.

Some of her takes are hilarious: She has a rant about saucers that is just priceless. There’s also plenty of fun Jewish stuff in the book and a few Philly references that are deeply satisfying. And some sentences are so funny and trenchant, you want to put them on an ironic sampler and hang it in your kitchen: “It’s not that I’m not happy, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not happy at all.” 

Yet much of the book just doesn’t read well if you’re a person who cares deeply about language. At one point, Jacobson asks, “Is there a point in time when you stop feeling like you’re 18?” I can’t answer that for sure, but I can say there is a point in time when you stop writing like you’re 18. Jacobson hasn’t gotten there yet.

Fortunately, the book is available as an audiobook, and that’s the best way to experience it. If you’re a fan of “Broad City,” you’ll love it in either format, but if you’re coming to Jacobson new, you’ll find the audiobook much more engaging. It’d be perfect for your own road trip, even if you have to drive all the way to Marfa.

Legal thriller hits mark, exudes Jewish vibe

Andy Gotlieb

Liana Cohen is in a bit of a rut.

She’s working as an appellate lawyer in New York City’s Public Defender’s Office, but has lost passion for her job — looking for legal errors (not proving innocence) that might help unsavory characters win a new trial has made her jaded. Her boss has called her out for her attitude.

Meantime, the Ivy League-educated protagonist, who lives on the Upper West Side, has a rising attorney boyfriend named Jakob, but she can’t stand his soulless corporate legal peers (she had been a summer associate at his firm).

At a dinner with Jakob, Jakob’s boss and his new bimbo girlfriend, Liana snaps when questioned about the merits of assisting convicts who likely are guilty; she responds by asking the boss about what morally reprehensible corporate client he is working for to the detriment of millions of

average Joes.

Things slowly change however, when a new appeals case is dropped in her lap.

A felon named Danny Shea contends he is innocent of a rape charge — and Liana wants to believe him. But she’s conflicted because she wonders whether her newfound interest for the job is because Shea is actually innocent or because he’s a handsome guy who speaks and writes well.

The case itself seems a fairly straight-forward instance of “he said, she said,” but Liana is drawn into Shea’s web, agreeing to meet him even though there’s no reason to do so. Soon, Liana is drawing comparisons between the inmate and Jakob.

There’s a heavily Jewish thematic element to “Unreasonable Doubt.” Liana — who’s Jewish, but not particularly well-versed in the religion — attends Shabbat services as well as a Jewish wedding early in the book. She also consults with Rabbi Jordan Nacht, who becomes an important character. Themes of tikkun olam and Jewish justice ideals are discussed, and the rabbi helps Cohen ascertain her bashert.

Although it’s sometimes hard to work up any real sympathy for Liana, the crisply 

written “Unreasonable Doubt” moves quickly and keeps readers on the edge of the seat with dialogue that rings true.

Author Reyna Marder Gentin knows her stuff and displays that in her debut novel; the Yale Law School graduate spent 18 years doing essentially the same job Liana Cohen does in the book and also worked as a juvenile rights attorney with the Legal Aid Society. JN

 

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.

 

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