Thursday, June 11, 2009

Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman by Gary Morgenstein

What happens when a hopelessly romantic divorced man falls madly in love with a beautiful woman rabbi -- but he's not yet over his ex-wife? In other words, why are relationships always so difficult? Especially when you’re starting over again with all that baggage…

Welcome to Gary Morgenstein’s new novel, Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, a look at love in the 21st Century from a man’s perspective: good, bad and everything in between.

As this poignant romantic triangle opens, women’s cable network publicist Joss Katz crashes a bat-mitzvah and becomes smitten with the enigmatic Rabbi Kleinman. Desperate to meet her, Joss contrives a wild excuse about needing spiritual guidance and they begin a roller-coaster relationship.

But Kleinman has a past shadowed by terrorism. She manipulates Joss into mentoring her younger brother Bobby. Brilliant and troubled, Bobby is embroiled with Meir Schlom, who has a dangerous and controversial scheme for confronting surging world-wide anti-Semitism.

Besides pursuing Thalia and his kooky former spouse Ellen, Joss deals with his curmudgeonly roommate and best friend, Mandelbaum. Embittered by his messy divorce, Mandy creates an organization dedicated to a life free of entanglements with women called Straight and Happy Without Them.

Gary Morgenstein’s previous novels are Take Me Out to the Ballgame and The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. His latest novel Jesse’s Girl, about a widowed Brooklyn father’s desperate search for his adopted teenage son who has run away from a wilderness treatment program, is also available on His play Ponzi Man played to sell-out crowds at a recent New York Fringe Festival.

Interview with Gary Morgenstein:

1. Why did you write this book?

A few years ago I was dragged to a synagogue for a friend's daughter's bat mitzvah. Now while I’m very spiritual, I don't fare too well in organized religion. So I'm sitting there pretty bored and then onto the dais walks the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. My knees buckled -- and I was sitting down. I nudge this guy who is praying and whisper, "who is that woman?" and he mumbles, "the rabbi." Holy smokes. The rabbis I knew as a kid reeked of gefilte fish and were 130-year-old men. So I thought, what if a guy like me, completely secular, fell in love with a gorgeous woman rabbi? I brought in what it's like to be middle-aged and divorced, yet you're still a hopeless romantic and you want to believe in love but experience tells you, maybe not. Is love possible again after a certain age when you’re no longer looking to breed?

2. Do you read a lot of romances? How does a romance by a female author differ from one by a male author, do you think?

While my reading ranges from history to sci-fi and fantasy, with little romances in between (well there is Uhura and Spock now…), men and women view relationships fundamentally different. Big surprise, Venus, Mars…It grows more pronounced over the years as we add on baggage and suspicions. But we’re all lonely and all looking for someone who would care if we fell down an elevator shaft. We all want to hold hands and snuggle and whatever…In this novel, I want women to see what guys want, how we feel, and I do mean feel (and not just lust), our perspectives about love and romance and sex or the lack thereof. How we are emotional and sensitive and can cry and hurt, too. And guess what, we’re not perfect! My protagonist Joss Katz is about as imperfect as they come, cute, okay, but he is constantly messing up. Guys require a great deal of patience and understanding, we ain’t cactuses, but, for the most part, our hearts are in the right place.

3. What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

As an SFM (someone formerly married) I needed to separate that emotional baggage and turn it into fiction and not a rant. Taking what happened and using that as a foundation for entirely new, fictitious characters was at times very hard because it’s easy to use reality as a crutch, but I’m proud that some 95% of the novel never ever happened. I must confess those two online dates in the novel were pretty close to reality, though. OMG, people post pictures from the second Reagan Administration and then get angry when you don’t recognize them. And sure, guys do it, too.

4. What was the most fun?

Other than finishing, you mean, and not being obsessed 24/7 with the characters and story and whether I misused a semi-colon? Other than once again resembling a semi-normal human being, as much as a writer ever can? I think writing the wacky and passionately loyal friendship between Joss and his best friend Mandy, spanning more than 35 years of love; two guys who would do anything for each other. It was and is a very special relationship to me

5. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Never give up on love. That’s a difficult mantra since the preponderance of relationships/marriages fail and, if superficially alive, are as often as not merely convenient shells for financial needs or the kids. Yeah, because children never suspect their parents aren’t happy, I mean come on…But love can still happen. I wouldn’t say it’s all that likely and you might be disappointed and your heart might be broken again but you know, so what? Better to have loved and lost…

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