BOOK REVIEW: The Anarchists Kosher Cookbook by Maxwell Bauman
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook was another short collection I picked up from the Clash Books table at AWP. When I stopped to talk to them, I said I was looking for strange and or humor stories. There’s not enough fun in entertainment anymore. So much mainstream content, whether it’s on TV, HULU, Netflix, or in theaters, is all about pushing an agenda–at least… a majority of it feels that way.
Coming back to the Kosher Cookbook, Bauman became so animated when he spoke of his book. I was so excited to read it. He was such a delightful guy and he was very enthusiastic about his work. On the back, it’s even tagged “Jewish Humor/Horror.” Now, I’m not Jewish, but regardless, I can appreciate a good laugh. You just gotta know how to make the joke, but… I couldn’t necessarily find the funny in this book, and maybe that’s because the humor was an inside sort of humor or maybe it was a different style of humor that I find funny… but in general, a lot like with The Confederacy of Hotdogs, I was distracted by the poor craftsmanship behind these stories and I think that will likely be my biggest criticism of this book.
But wait, there’s more.
I tend to believe that people are the most honest they will ever be in their writing. You can get an excellent sense of who someone is and what they believe through their writing, even if they aren’t writing politically. Everyone knows this–that’s why critique groups are so hard or why deleting a single line from a manuscript is so difficult. Because fiction, just as much as nonfiction essays, are insanely personal. The stories we choose to write says something about who we are. The characters we write will be influenced by our own optimism or pessimism. No one will spend months or years writing something that they don’t believe in–and maybe they’ll grow out of the mindset they were in at the time, but your point of view will drastically inspire your story. I can look at the novels written by my my teachers or cohorts from college and say for certain I would never write the stories they did because I don’t have the same point of view, whether it’s on the larger societal interpretation or individual human interactions.
That being said, I think I got a good feeling of some things Bauman believed while writing Kosher Cookbook and they were more distracting than funny to me. They weren’t variant, but rather obsessed, and this will be my second criticism of the book as we go through the stories.
WHEN THE BUSH BURNS A woman wakes up to her pubic hair being on fire. The fire isn’t man-made, but a theoretical messenger from God. While seeking treatment for this thing at her local synagogue, strange happenings follow them. The bush tells the main character if she wants to have a child, she must cheat on her husband and sleep with the young rabbi who had apparently been praying to bang this woman. In the end, she continues to tell “God” no, and it blacks out as she’s waiting for punishment in a black hole nightmare type thing.
THE MESSIAH IN NEWARK A couple on their honeymoon are rudely interrupted by the end of the world as its called for by some homeless-looking man who has appeared on television. He claims he is the messiah and continues enacts “miracles” of bringing literally everything he can back from the dead, including animals, plants, bugs, the planks of wood used to build the houses, and the oil in cars (claimed as dinosaur fossil). This ends with the husband of the honeymooners dying and the woman basically saying, “I’m not coming to you, God! If you want me, come and get me!” while she did what she wanted. “It’s only fair he had to wait for me.”
YOU’VE LOST THAT L’CHAIM FEELING A couple of ghost girls are hanging out. One of them is obsessed with possessing peoples’ bodies because she died a virgin and wants to lose her v-card. Eventually, they go to a rabbi the non-virgin ghost knew because he was rumored to have people willing to become possessed if they did him favors. The favors included moving things around when he made the motions in order to trick his congregation that he had the blessings of God and thus, he’d get larger tithes/donations. After the ghosts comply, they’re kicked out. The non-virgin is so mad, she goes back for revenge and gets captured. The virgin ghost grabs the help of an angel and goes in to terrorize the synagogue and the rabbi who tricked them, in addition to freeing her friend. They basically call upon a giant wave to demolish the synagogue and lead the rabbis into a graveyard where the angel takes them. The virgin ghost goes back to the girl she tried to possess in the beginning and has sex, losing her virginity and the human girl’s virginity at the same time.
THE LEVIATHAN BLUES Starts out with these two Leviathans having sex. Cause that’s important. God shows up, says you guys can’t exist so I’ma off one of you tomorrow. Enjoy your short time together, then he disappears. I get the feeling this was done during the first seven days of Genesis because there’s this introduction of “The creature that will rule the land and sea.” Anyway, the angel of death shows up to take them and they climb out of the water and start traveling around to avoid him. They somehow avoid him long enough while cave jumping that they have sex again and eventually have a baby and raise the baby. Then the angel of death catches up, they bury the baby so he’s hidden. The angel of death kills the mom and flies away and it basically ends with alluding to the father teaching the son leviathan vengeance. The child is to go into the Garden of Eden and “tempt/ruin” God’s favorite creatures in revenge for killing the leviathan’s wife.
THE ANARCHIST KOSHER COOKBOOK In the form of a list, it’s a story on how to create a golem in the Jewish faith, using a recipe, then using the golem to smash the fasce,’ then having sex with the golem, and when its job is done, it turns back to dust.
BAPHOMITZVAH A pair of Jewish twins are about to be Bat/Bar Mitzvahed. One boy, one girl, the girl is obsessed with her party and were made popular because she was pretty detested in her school and thought this could make her popular. She prays to God for an awesome party, that the girl she hates should suffer, and that the boy she’s in love with falls for her. Turns out, she gives up on God not giving her what she wants and turns to Satan worship. Her twin brother, on his way to peep on the girl of his dreams (and jerk off as he watches her come out of the shower from the bushes. He finds his sister has beaten him there and she’s flicking her bean over a pentagram with a bloody tampon on it, trying to hex this girl she hates. The brother drags her home, they fight. She’s kind of off her rocker and their rabbi notices this when she’s giving a practice reading of the Torah. She’s almost stopped from having her mitzvah and throws a fit that the rabbi would try and ruin this for her. She creates a hex to carry around in her pocket to screw over the rabbi. Later at her party, she hits on the guy she’s in love with and he says he’s not interested in her, but in her arch enemy. Eventually, he disappears from the party and she goes looking for him. He’s found in a closet, making out with the object of this girl’s hate in a game of seven minutes in heaven. They had back to the party after some urging, but everyone in the party room has been murdered by the rabbi who had been taken over by Satan–and he now looked like the red, half-goat caricature of Satan. Satan kills each of these kids one-by-one until it’s down to the twin sister. She wakes up in a mental ward where she’s asked a couple of questions about what she did, she doesn’t remember anything, and it’s alluded to that she went insane. However, as she starts screaming, she’s injected with meds by an orderly who says Satan didn’t find her useful anymore now that she was locked up and the story ends, “You will suffer the penalty for your salaciousness and endure the consequences of your sin. Then you will know that I AM.” So, God is punishing her.
Now, with all that out of the way…
You might have noticed a theme running through all of these stories. I certainly did. There were two themes. One was sexual frustration or sexual fantasy. Basically, everything had to have some kind of sex in it. Bush had YOU MUST BANG THE RABBI, Newark had a honeymooning couple (interrupted), the ghosts were obsessed with getting laid, the golem just had to bang its creator, the leviathan’s sex was described, and we have both the twins in the final story finger banging themselves. If the characters didn’t actually have sex, they were stopped or sexually frustrated and generally it was God’s fault.
Which leads me to the second theme in each of these stories: God is portrayed as evil or immoral. Now, I can’t speak of the Jewish interpretation of God because I’m from a Protestant background. I know they’re heavily into that guilt and punishment, especially since they don’t believe Christ was sent by God to pay for our sins so they’re still loafing around guilt, but…. This book is more than just punishment from God.
The first story, God orders a married woman to cheat on her husband. In the second story, it appears God is punishing people by bringing everything back to life. People are forced to vomit what they’ve eaten, their homes dismantle, and in the end, many of these characters die. The newlyweds are ripped apart and the wife blames God for killing her husband and then elevates herself above God with her disobedience (if God was calling everyone to Newark. In the third story, the rabbi was evil and the synagogue only cared about making money and fooled the congregation. The angel also disobeyed God because he wasn’t any fun. The fourth story, God created something and immediately decided he made a mistake and needed to kill one of them, not both, just torture the one by taking away the male leviathan’s partner to then justify the destruction of human innocence. The golem story is more about emasculation than God as the instructions talk about chipping off the creature's balls to force it into submission and make it cook, clean, whatever, keep it busy. Then the final story, a girl turns on God when she doesn’t get what she wants, turns to Satan, and then is just punished. Like, the ending phrase I posted above… it’s more than just punishment, it feels like Bauman meant to make it seem like God enjoys punishing people…
What I feel like I learned about the author through this is that perhaps he’s sexually frustrated and he blames God for it–he obviously doesn’t like God or think of God in any positive way. God is the villain, in fact, in all of these stories.
The concept of the burning bush was funny, but the story itself was not as the woman went to the rabbi, looked at dogs humping outside the window, and it focused on defying God. The concept of everything coming back to life, literally everything, was an interesting one, but the Messiah was also a disgusting zombie who didn’t care about people. He wanted to punish the living by using the dead.
Also worth noting, it felt like Bauman was obsessed with women. The narrators of almost all the stories were women and if the stories themselves weren’t narrated by women, about women, the stories still revolved around women, such as the Leviathan story or when the male twin brother was in charge, he was obsessed with the hot chick or his sister.
There wasn’t anything light-hearted about this and if there was humor in here, it felt more bitter than done out of adoration or good fun. Kind of like insult comedy. Or maybe more like, you whine about something and then end it by saying, “LOL, just kidding.”
On a technical front, I think this collection was published a little early. Bauman, I think, could use a mentor or a more critical eye to help him develop his ideas and polish them a lot. There was head-jumping throughout the short stories, but it was particularly bad in the Leviathan story. There was a lot of telling, which included so many sentences that started with I WANT. HE WANTS. WANT. WANT. WANT. (which were at their worst in BAPHOMITZVAH) and of course, the ever telling “feel.”
The massive amount of telling, including the use of was, left a lot of these stories in “summarization” mode rather than actually showing the stories going down. Then there were a good number of typos which should have been caught by an editor before it got published.
There’s a lot of content to break down here and I could likely do a blog post on each story, but… I don’t really want to spend that much time in Kosher Cookbook. So, unless he were to ask me for my opinion on some of these things, this is where I’ll likely leave it.
For a novice or new writer, these pieces are fine for development, but I don’t think they were ready to be published, especially not for $13. I think if Bauman gets some help and polishes up his stories, his writing will improve with time, but I just don’t think this is market-ready as it stands.