By Moshe Kasher. Grand Central Publishing. 320 pages. $24.99
Reviewed by Jason Barr
JASON BARR is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
The comparisons will be as inevitable as they are wrong. Almost every contemporary male memoirist with a sense of humor is compared to David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, or both. Moshe Kasher, however, is an entity that is uncomfortably different from either of them.
Kasher tells the story of his early teen years, which includes the dissolution of his family, his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and his often confusing relationship with his deaf mother and father. As a result, “Kasher in the Rye” careens from one moment to the next, from near brushes with death or the police, to failed stints in rehab and school. The resulting read is a freewheeling narrative that is often difficult to put down — essentially, the reader asks the question over and over again, what trouble will Kasher get himself into this time?
Where Kasher differs, mostly, from Burroughs is that Burroughs often has a fair mix of pathos and Schadenfreude permeating his work, and even Burroughs’ most humorous essays are often tinged with a stubborn sense of melancholy, a search for meaning in even the worst circumstances. Kasher, however, seems to revel in his early adventures until the very end of the book, and then, perhaps in an effort to appear redeemed, crams in a few pages that shows just how much he has changed since that crazed era of his life.
Most unfortunately, Kasher also differs from Sedaris, in that Sedaris often shares inane moments in his life and weaves those essays into long meditations on the very nature of human existence. There is no meditation in “Kasher in the Rye.” Kasher writes about the exceedingly high dropout rate of Oakland’s public school system, and then quickly adds, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this a social critique! Back to the destruction!” And then Kasher is off again, describing his attempts to rob someone of marijuana. This gives “Kasher in the Rye” a hollow feel, as Moshe Kasher seems unwilling or unable to delve into deeper contexts surrounding his troubles.
Those looking for a rollicking adventure will certainly find that. It should be noted that Kasher’s style is not politically correct, as when he describes a group of mentally retarded children as “thick-browed paste eaters.” More of the same cutting, in-your-face, offensive attitude permeates the work, and, unfortunately, too often robs Kasher’s narrative — and his attempts to share how he ultimately found guidance in his life — of a true, definable purpose.