Reviewed by Dave Eisenstark for Readers' Favorite
Warren Alexander's Cousins' Club is a backhanded ode to growing up Jewish in the 50s/60s in Brooklyn. But this isn't gauzy nostalgia; fingers are sliced off, people die, the innocent are punished and the guilty crushed, often in brutally appropriate ways, and hilariously. The premise is that Grandma has decided the narrator is a genius (at birth) and must therefore be raised by ALL the misfits of the extended family, since none is capable of handling genius alone. Then at the end, the narrator aims at revenge for his wacky upbringing. The book is populated by characters who can't catch a break, and instinctively know it, but despite their gripes, manage to scheme and hope and look for a better life. The cousins have strong opinions, definite attitudes, and massive blind spots. It being the fifties, there are bullet bras, Buicks, good food, bad food, bad jokes (and good ones), the Mob, and some funny ideas about sex, too.
I found it all very enjoyable, and would recommend the book, especially if you're of a certain age, Jewish (even just a little), or a New Yorker. The only thing lacking was a strong through-story, and at times I missed one. Making up for it is an entertaining weave of shorter tales, funny characters, crazy episodes and absurdities, all written with a sharp, satiric blade. Warren Alexander's Cousins' Club reminded me strongly of Tristram Shandy—the main character is introduced prior to birth and the circumstances of his birth alter his life greatly—both a disfiguring accident and an unfortunate history to the narrator's name. The quirky relatives with funny ideas and the amused detachment all added to the impression: this a definite descendant of the Lawrence Sterne novel. (One of my favorites, and most every English major's favorite, by the way—so very good company.)