Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hollywood, Jews, & Hollywood Jews

The Lawgiver
by Herman Wouk

Ninety-seven-year-old Herman Wouk (or a fictionalized version of him) is minding his own business. And his business, as you know, is writing novels. He’s finally tackling the ambitious project he’s wanted to write for decades, the story of Moses. It is a huge coincidence, therefore, when a hot Hollywood producer finagles a meeting insisting that he’s the only man for the job of writing a Moses screenplay.

Well, Mr. Wouk wants nothing to do with this. Meetings are refused until a rabbi intervenes. Ultimately, it is revealed that the epic film’s funding—through unconventional sources—rests upon Wouk’s participation. Under duress, he agrees to act as a consultant to the film, with final script approval. A screenwriter for this all-but-unwritable film must be found. Enter Margo Solovei, a young, independent film auteur who has eschewed her orthodox Jewish upbringing. And it is actually Margo who is at the novel’s heart, as she pursues this project while dealing with producers, directors, actors, Herman Wouk, and any number of people tying her to her roots.

I doubt I can express how much I loved this novel! Oh, how I laughed! It’s true that I am Jewish, and that I have worked in the film industry, so it’s possible that the tale “spoke” to me more than it might to some, but Wouk’s satire is dead on. Not just of an industry, but of human nature. I guess nearly a century of life gives a man some perspective. Also, as the Booklist reviewer astutely pointed out, there are subtle reflections of Wouk’s classic 1955 coming of age novel, Marjorie Morningstar, adding an additional layer of pleasure for fans such as myself. It’s really quite amazing the various themes and commentaries that Mr. Wouk manages to work into this slender novel. It’s playful as hell, but still whip smart.

Oh, yeah, I should mention that this is an epistolary novel, always a fun and inventive way to tell a tale. It’s comprised of letters, emails, faxes, IMs, Skypes, transcripts, voicemails, and so forth. Through the correspondence of the characters’ personal and professional lives, a web of connections is formed. And in the end, The Lawgiver is a romantic comedy. I rooted for lovers to find their way. I rooted for unsavory characters to get their comeuppance. And I rooted for Mr. Wouk, who has proved that at 97 he is as sharp as he ever was. I was moved by the novel’s epilogue, and I shall be waiting with anticipation for his next two novels.


  1. OK, this one is going on my 'to read' list. Last year I read Wouk's "A Hole In Texas", which covered the overlap of scientific research and politics in the same manner. I was wonderful, and this sounds the same.

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for bringing A Hole in Texas to my attention. It sounds fantastic! In fact, I'm not sure how I missed it, but I plan to rectify the matter in the near future. Thanks!

    2. Steve,

      I read A Hole in Texas today. I loved it! Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention! Man, I need to explore more of Herman Wouk's backlist. Why did I ignore the man for half a century? He is rapidly becoming a favorite!