To the Editor:
In reviewing Marjorie Morningstar (February) Norman Podhoretz seems grimly determined to patronize and at the same time annihilate not only a best-selling author, but also a way of life that has managed to survive roughly some four thousand years. . . .
After recovering from the staggering notion that the author of the Caine Mutiny should “pass for a serious writer,” Mr. Podhoretz moves on to observe that Marjorie Morningstar is “perhaps the first novel to treat American Jews intimately as Jews without making them seem exotic.” This, unfortunately, is not enough to satisfy Mr. Podhoretz’s aesthetic standards. . . . Mr. Wouk is taken to task for his “crucial dishonesty.” To prove his point, Mr. Podhoretz ponderously devotes one half of his review to an analysis of Marjorie Morningstar’s reasons for eating lobster. Mr. Wouk, it seems, had it all wrong. The real reason Miss Morningstar ate lobster, Mr. Podhoretz points out, is that “dietary laws have little meaning in her life.” This reason, Mr. Podhoretz notes, never occurs to Mr. Wouk. It is, I suppose, always rewarding to read a review of a novel by a reviewer blessed with clairvoyance.
It is obvious that I take exception to Mr. Podhoretz’s apparent belief that the discussion of lobster is central to the intent of the novel. I should like also to point out that nowhere in the novel does Mr. Wouk imply that a Jew really grows into “a warped creature by eating lobster. . . .”
The reason for Mr. Podhoretz’s sensitivity on this score is not known to me. However, at the risk of being considered as clairvoyant as Mr. Podhoretz, I would confidently wager a salami sandwich that Mr. Podhoretz is a good deal fonder of lobster than he is of best-selling novelists.
Mr. Podhoretz writes:
It is a little bewildering to be accused of an assault on Judaism for having pointed to the universally acknowledged fact that Halachic Judaism has been in a deepening crisis in modern times. (I refer Mr. Cohodes to any number of articles in this magazine written by rabbis and social commentators of every denomination.)
Apparently I failed to make it clear to Mr. Cohodes that my analysis of the lobster-eating incident was meant to exemplify the way Wouk handles the question of Jewish observance throughout the novel. I accuse Wouk of dishonesty because he tries to persuade the reader that a girl like Marjorie has no reason to “betray” her religion other than moral cowardice and youthful stupidity. It doesn’t take clairvoyance to know that Marjorie’s surrender is due as much to the meaninglessness of the dietary laws in her life as to the sophistry of Noel Airman : it merely takes a careful reading of the novel and a cursory look at West End Avenue and Mamaroneck. Wouk does imply that there is no hope of health and happiness for the assimilated Jew (perhaps Mr. Cohodes didn’t realize that I was using “eating lobster” metaphorically)—how else would Mr. Cohodes interpret the last scene of the novel? (As it happens, I’m not very fond of lobster.)