Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Works from Call It Sleep to Knocked Up have cemented the notion that to be young and Jewish is also to be neurotic and self-deflating, and Shalom Auslander doesn’t dare mess with tradition in his debut memoir, Foreskin’s Lament. He’s spent his entire life suffering from low-grade anxiety about straying from his Orthodox roots, and self-confidence would only invite a barrage of lightning bolts. The book’s title evokes the high-water mark of anxious-Jew comedy writing, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Auslander revels in exposing himself as a fallen adolescent who broke from his restrictive family in Monsey, N.Y., to become a pot-smoking, porn-consuming, Slim Jim–chomping young man. The book’s best bits—and it reads more like an assortment of stand-up riffs than a proper memoir—reveal the masochistic extremes he’ll go to for the sake of theologically rebooting. After a trip to a Manhattan strip club, he writes, “I went to my bedroom, stood naked in front of my desk, and dropped the heaviest dictionary I could find onto my tool of the evil inclination. Merriam-Webster. Hardcover. Unabridged. A new era had begun.” Not every set piece works—his nerdy love of hip-hop and nervousness around girls make for some hacky gags, and at times his abusive father seems so violent that Auslander’s attempts to swaddle his rages in jokes feel unintentionally desperate. It’s all grist for the mill, though: When Auslander stresses about his present-day freakouts over his soon-to-be-born son, he’s level-headed enough to acknowledge how his upbringing shaped him, even if he’s too bruised to be completely at ease. Auslander discusses and signs copies of his work at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, at the Washington District of Columbia’s Jewish Community Center, 1519 16th St. NW. $8. (202) 777-3250; in conjunction with the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.