By Judith Krantz
St. Martin's, 352 pp.
The book jacket of Judith Krantz's memoir "Sex and Shopping: TheConfessions of a Nice Jewish Girl" promises a read every bit assensationalistic as her breathless best-sellers. "While I seemed likeanother 'nice Jewish girl,' underneath that convenient cover I'[ve]traveled my own, inner-directed path and had many a spicy and secretadventure," Krantz confides.
If you're looking for tales of sex and glamour, stick with "TheMistral's Daughter" Krantz's life is actually rather dull. But in "Sex andShopping," readers will find something that ultimately more satisfying--a surprisingly insightful description of how non-observant Jews find their identity inextricably intertwined with their religion.
Both of Krantz's parents rose from humble immigrant roots to becomesuccessful professionals. Her father was born on the Lower EastSide of Manhattan, just a few years after his Orthodox parents emigratedfromRussia. Forced to drop out of high school to help support his family,JackDavid Tatachook sharpened pencils in an ad agency before he opened up hisown publicity shop at the age of 24. Reinventing himself as Jack Tarcher,heultimately pulled in enough cash to install his family at a Central ParkWestaddress. Krantz's Lithuanian-born mother was similarly self-made. MickeyBrager left school at 14 to work in a candy factory and finished herdegree by taking classes at night. After marrying Tarcher, she earnedboth amasters in economics and a law degree, and became a staff attorney at theLegal Aid Society.
The Tarchers participated in a number of Jewish philanthropicorganizations,but they were strictly "delicatessen Jews." The household celebratedChristmas rather than Hanukkah or the High Holy Days. Krantz remembersattending "one or two Seders" but it wasn't until college that she learnedabout the existence of the Old Testament.
But if Krantz was not a bat mitzvahed, synagogue-frequenting Jew,herreligious affiliation nonetheless had far reaching consequences in herlife.Krantz attended Wellesley when the school had a strict ten percent quotaforJews and Catholics, and none of the Jewish girls roomed with the goyim inthe freshman dorms. Nor was there any cross-religious dating. AccordingtoKrantz, she held a geisha-like allure over college men, at one pointhaving"thirteen dates with thirteen men on thirteen consecutive nights" duringhersenior year. While the photographs of a pudgy girl would seem to belieherboy-magnet pretensions, Krantz offers up an explanation for her activedatinglife: aside from being a Jew, she had a gentile-looking nose. "For aJewish girlnot to 'look like' a Jew, whether anybody would admit it or not, wasextraordinarily important," she writes.
Rather than settle down with a nice Jewish boy after graduation,Krantz spenta year in Paris. She lost her virginity, shacked up with her freeloadingboss,and helped hawk women's hats. Krantz describes this period as the happiestof her life, but once her parents refused to continue bankrolling herstay, shewas forced to return home.A stint at Good Housekeeping followed, and at 26 Judy married thetelevisionproducer Steve Krantz. After they had the first of two sons shefreelanced forwomen's magazines. The family relocated to California, where Krantz spentthe better part of her days visiting her shrink, working out at the gym,and(surprise!) shopping. Krantz says it was partially to dislodge her fromBeverlyHills boutiques that her husband urged her to take up fiction writing.And soat the age of 50, she wrote "Scruples." A fifteen-citypublicity tour nudged thenovel to the top slot on the New York Times bestseller list--a feat Krantzmanaged to repeat with each of her nine subsequent books.
Krantz is disarmingly honest about the limitations of heroeuvre--as sheputs it, she writes "successful commercial novels" rather than "serious,poetic'high fiction.'" Elegant prose is not her hallmark, as this rambling,superlative-laden memoir makes amply clear. And the book jacket'spromises aside, Krantz's life is no match for the dramatic plots sheweaves inher novels.
Still, there is a laudable ambition behind this autobiography.Krantz succeeds at plumbing her childhood, family life, and Jewish roots in an effort tounderstand who she is. She freely admits she is not the equal of her protagonists,and that could be a major component of her resounding success. Bycreatingimpossibly gorgeous, fearless heroines (almost all of whom are gentiles) abourgeois, nice Jewish girl has tapped into the dreams and imaginations ofreaders around the world. Krantz writes that "ordinary life-size justdoesn'tdo it for me." Luckily for her book sales, it doesn't do it for hermillions ofreaders, either.