A (Not So) Nice Jewish Girl: Rachel Shukert's Book is a Shanda

haveyounoshame_bookOy vey iz mir. Like so many Jewish Americans of a certain age and social standing, Rachel Shukert, the author of Have You No Shame?, is usually her own worst enemy. She pursues nebulous career goals, obsesses about weight and the holocaust, and tries to play the reprobate and the crusader at the same time. Unlike most Jewish Americans of a certain age and social standing, Shukert can't blame the neurosis-inducing soil of the Northeast: She comes from Omaha. That's right, a Jew from Omaha…Nebraska.
In her latest collection of autobiographical essays, freelance pottymouth and regular Nerve.com contributor Shukert not only introduces the reader to the peculiarities of an American Jewish upbringing, but the almost comfortable isolation of living in a "Flyover State" in the late 1980s. Thankfully, there are helpful footnotes supplied for both Gentiles and non-Nebraskans alike. As Shukert moves to NYU and leaves behind her halcyon childhood obsessions with concentration-camp gas chambers, Nazis in the walls, and cholera, she trades them in for more New-York Style issues; eating disorders, unemployment, anonymous sex, alcoholism, ya' know.
By the time her late twenties, 9/11, marriage and a family tragedy roll around, Shukert, and her myriad self-admitted flaws, have grown on you. The chapter called "The Anorexic's Cookbook" is as fearsome as it is comic, in part because you care about the narrator and in part because her recipe for a "Pepped-Up Pick-Me-Up Power Lunch" (diet soda, Twizzlers, and cocaine) is just plain hilarious. This is an age when some writers feel that the deplorable trend of oversharing is somehow a G-d-given right. But even when she's recounting her venereal diseases, Shukert has a saving grace that separates her from that desperate generation of women writers: She's funny. Have You No Shame? is a shanda (yiddish for shame), but Shukert should be proud of it.
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