By: Rebecca Guzman  | 

Arts and Culture: A Review of Goyhood

What happens when you realize you are not the person you always thought you were? When the past turns out to be a lie, how do you decide upon a present, and how do you begin shaping a future? 

These questions lie at the heart of Reuven Fenton’s debut novel, “Goyhood,” which hits shelves on May 28. Fenton (YC '03), an alum of Yeshiva University and longtime New York Post reporter, follows one man, Mayer Belkin, as his life unravels and he is left witless in the face of calamitous changes. Mayer, the son-in-law of a prominent Brooklyn rosh yeshiva, is not, as it turns out, actually Jewish. This shocking revelation sends Fenton’s protagonist on the ride of his life, heralding both a literal and spiritual road trip through the Deep South with only his estranged twin brother, a one-eyed dog and an eccentric woman in tow. 

Throughout the novel, Fenton achieves that which so few Jewish authors can: “Goyhood” beautifully portrays American, Orthodox-Jewish life, fusing the raw energy of Americana with the controlled structure of yeshivish society. It seems impossible for both worlds to coexist, let alone for one character to venture between them, but Mayer (formerly Marty) trades his hazy suburban hometown for insular Kensington, where he spends years without speaking to his twin, David, and attempts to connect to his emotionally distant wife. The Belkin brothers reference Tehillim and Shaquille O’Neal, raised on Dorito-and-Miracle Whip sandwiches and the belief that, like Abraham, you can wake up one morning and decide to change your life.

But when the Georgia-boy-turned-Torah-scholar finds out that the life he built is nothing but a sham, his youthful invincibility gives way to the static uncertainty of middle age, the terrifying standstill that you reach when you’ve turned all corners and run into yourself. Mayer and David embark on an iconic road trip reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Paul Auster’s “The Music of Chance,” searching for the only universal thing there is: identity. 

With “Goyhood,” Fenton establishes himself as a welcome and refreshing voice in contemporary fiction, with a thoughtful and touching story that surprises with its spirit and depth. This seriously philosophical, seriously funny novel is a perfect summer read for both the uninitiated and the old-timers, the Jews who wonder and the Jews who follow. No matter who you are, “Goyhood” accomplishes that which the best books do: it makes you question and answer, all at once.


Photo Caption: “Goyhood,” Reuven Fenton’s debut novel, hits shelves on May 28.

Photo Credit: Reuven Fenton