If you can brave Harry Freund’s debut novel, you’re in for a thrill ride that only the raucousness of an aging Jewish social scene can provide. “Love With Noodles: An Amorous Widower’s Tale” (Carroll & Graf) is set on the Manhattan’s dangerous and rocky terrain known as the Jewish Upper East Side. Our navigator, Dan Gelder, guides us through on this social safari, in which we encounter such exotic species as Violet (wealthy loud-mouthed socialite with a heart of gold), Myra (sex-crazed liberal activist) and Tatiana (beautiful Ukrainian immigrant and mother of a piano prodigy).
Narrated in the first person, the story centers on Dan’s reintegration into the dating scene after having spent two years mourning the death of his wife, Ellen. He is a successful stockbroker with an elegant Park Avenue apartment and a long list of friends who are concerned for his well-being. At the outset we find Dan basking in his solitude, unsure of the next step to take and his prospects for future love. He is equally vexed by the troubled relationship he has with his son, Eric, and by the portent of a non-Jewish daughter-in-law hovering on the horizon. At his 60th birthday party, Dan meets Violet (née Vivian, aka Chaya) and begins a tour of love that sends him to Israel and back. A veritable geriatric Don Juan, he quickly forms relationships with four other women. Dan spends much of the novel trying to disentangle himself from the web he has created and deciding which one ultimately will be the woman for him.
Along the way, Dan contemplates his true desires, his longings for his wife and his insecurities about age. There is not much in the way of character development, but Freund does attempt to shed some light on the social hardships of widowers. Perhaps the most fully developed plot line in this regard is the father-son relationship. Dan informs us that since the death of Ellen he has felt estranged from Eric, but still feels the need to assist in solving his son’s current financial quandaries. The relationship does grow over the course of the novel, though the characterizations are too flat to elicit deep empathy.
But this really is not the core of the book. As the subtitle of “Love With Noodles” suggests,itis primarily a tale of romance. The novel makes for some good laughs and some corny, if not all too true, parodies of married life. The laughs come largely in the form of bedroom fiascos and sexually charged dialogue, but Freund’s range of imagination in this area is quite impressive. At 60, Freund’s protagonist is twice the ladies’ man that this reviewer ever will be.
Adam Stern is a writer living in New York.