Auslander in the Attic
by Sala Levin
The Holocaust, as Michael Scott so wisely taught us, is one thing we just can’t joke about. (Scott’s other taboos? JFK and AIDS, though the Lincoln assassination was only recently crossed off that list.) But Shalom Auslander, well, bless him, he’s trying. The angry writer behind Foreskin’s Lament recently released a series of book trailers (entitled “The Attic Calls”) for his forthcoming novel, Hope: A Tragedy. In the trailers, Auslander pleads with fellow Semite Ira Glass and friends-of-the-Jews Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman to shelter him and his family if–let’s be real, in Auslander’s mind it’s when–there’s another Holocaust.
Auslander isn’t the first Jewish writer to wade into the world of book trailers: Last year, Gary Shteyngart released a hilarious trailer featuring everyone’s favorite post-graduate-degree-collecting Jewish dreamboat James Franco and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jeffrey Eugenides. But Shteyngart only mocked himself; Auslander goes a step further, probing the perceived Jewish proclivity for pathos and pessimism. Another Holocaust is on its way, Auslander says–so make plans now.
So can the Holocaust be funny? Well, the trailers are. (In one notably absurd moment, Glass suggests that, should the need arise, his family and Auslander’s can buy a house boat and “moor somewhere off of the Florida Keys for a few years.”) Jews, after all, have a long tradition of turning tragedy into comedy, of finding levity in a seemingly endless line of sorrows. And the target of Auslander’s biting humor in these trailers isn’t really the Holocaust. In one scene that perhaps perfectly encapsulates much of the Jewish experience, Auslander and his family play in the woods during a rainstorm; he pushes his children on a tire swing and his dogs frolic as drops of water pound down on them. This is the point: It rains, and we play. What alternative is there?
Editor’s Note: Want a chance for Shalom Auslander to read your writing? Send in your submissions for Moment’s 2011 Memoir Contest, to be judged by, well, you guessed it, Shalom Auslander. Deadline is December 31st; find out more here.