Felicia Berliner. Shmutz. Atria, 2022. ISBN 978-1982177621 272 pp. $27
A young ultra-Orthodox woman details her discovery of porn in this fascinating novel about religion, sexuality, and rebellion. Eighteen year old Raizl has always had a head for numbers and gets a dispensation to work as an accounting assistant in a jewelry company, and a scholarship to attend college and take accounting courses. The scholarship comes with a shiny laptop (it’s not clear how she connects to the internet) which is presumably for assignments, and access to therapy.
The Internet is full of people having sex, discovers Raizl. She learns the English words for names of body parts she only knows in Yiddish, and from watching illicit videos it’s a slippery slope to eating bacon and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fries, changing into tight jeans in the restroom at school, and fooling around with boys at the beach. In the midst of this, she has increasing responsibility in the accounting job, increasing belligerence towards her therapist. She shares a Maccabeats video with her little sister, and goes on several dates arranged by the shidduch, eventually accepting a suit from an auburn-haired young man who informs her no computers will be allowed in their home.
Bonus points for clever placement of hamantaschen on the cover. The writing is immediate and both authentic teenager and authentic ultra-Orthodox. Scenes detailed the porn Raizl watches and later, her fantasies, are untitalling for this reader, reduced to observation of the mechanics. The story ends were any good YA novel leaves off: at a launch point for a new beginning of sorts.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Shmutz via #NetGalley