A Sexy Outsider’s View of Yeshiva

February 10, 2011 | By

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Stephen Marche’s wonderful novel Raymond and Hannah (2006) begins with WASPy Raymond meeting sultry Jewish Hannah at a party. The two go home together for what’s supposed to be a one-night stand, but quickly and intensely evolves into a passionate weeklong tryst.

At the week’s end, Hannah leaves–as scheduled–to explore her religious identity at a Jerusalem yeshiva. Raymond stays home to work on his doctoral dissertation about The Anatomy of Melancholy. For most of the rest of the book, the two are apart, and their correspondences carry the reader through a long-distance love story.

Marche tells Raymond and Hannah’s story in lyrical stanzas of prose, each with a title in the margin (e.g., “Carnal Etiquette”). The form is a startlingly effective way to write about the revelations that come from studying Torah (Hannah), writing a Ph.D. dissertation (Raymond), and falling in love with someone far away (both).  Lust and spirituality are delicately layered in the pages of this tempestuous modern romance.

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