Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Right Turns on the Inside Outside

Strengthen them, oh Lord,
And keep them from the strangers' ways.
--Topol, Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm dating a Baptist girl right now or the fact that I've been romantically involved with a number of Protestant girls despite being a good Catholic boy who has dreamt since childhood of marrying a fellow mackerelsnapper, but I seem to be reading a lot of books lately about interfaith relationships.

Of course, a relationship between Protestants and Catholics seems less controversial than a relationship between Christians and Jews. And yet I find it impossible to read a book about Jews and Christians dating one another without comparing it to my own experience.

The latest such book is author Herman Wouk's Inside, Outside, a novel I considered at best so-so until the author introduces the main character's Gentile girlfriend, Bobbie Webb. Then suddenly I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

Of course it didn't hurt that Wouk was writing about a beautiful showgirl and I -- like most straight men -- have a weakness for stories about beautiful showgirls.

And yet this book seemed different.

Perhaps because in this book, the author doesn't gloss over the feelings of the Gentile girl. True, the author's main emphasis is on the Jewish character's feelings but he does not gloss over the girl's feelings like some authors would. He does not ignore the irony of a Jewish character who spends much of the book feeling like an outsider in the gentile world treating his own beloved as an outsider. Nor does he pretend that the Jewish character's eventual decision to pass up Bobbie Webb in exchange for a relationship with a nice Jewish girl is painless to either party.

I know it's not fair to compare fiction to nonfiction but I can't resist thinking of an account of a similar relationship in Michael Medved's autobiography Right Turns. Medved, too, eventually gives up his shiksa girlfriend in favor of a nice Jewish girl but for some reason, his account rings kinda heartless. True, he deserves props for not disguising the fact that he cheated on his gentile girlfriend and for not making her out to be worse than she was. (In fact, she comes across as being far more sympathetic a person than he is.) But his decision to give up his girlfriend and return to his Jewish roots is presented in such a positive unambiguous light that one can't help feeling sorry for Medved's ex-girlfriend and wondering what she ever saw in the guy.

Oh, well.

I'm not yet sure what I learned from Herman Wouk's book or how it relates to the current amor de mi vida but I'm sure I'll find out eventually. If nothing else, I pray I treat her more kindly than Medved treated his ex-novia. And that I don't end up calling her Bobbie...

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