Laurie Graff’s The Shiksa Syndrome is a witty, lively rom-com that tells of Aimee Albert’s struggle to attract a nice, Jewish man, until one mistakes her for a non-Jewish woman – a shiksa. Josh Hirsch’s anti-Oedipal feelings towards Jewish women and his affection for Aimee lead her to keep up the charade of being a shiksa. She empties her Manhattan apartment of menorahs and Torahs, and even has to skip a Passover ritual to accommodate him; in the hope that he will soon introduce and ‘convert’ her to the Jewish traditions.
Meanwhile, her shiksa friend Krista lands a Jewish companion, and soon it is Krista who is being welcomed into the Jewish community. Aimee has to dig deeper and deeper in order to maintain the pretence of being a non-Jew, even having to disown her parents and sister while in Josh’s presence. As her situation becomes ever more outrageous and whirling out of her control, she is forced to decide whether she holds Josh or her identity in higher esteem.
Although on the surface, Aimee seems foolish for even temporarily sidestepping around her cultural identity to appease a man, she is nonetheless a smart, intelligent woman who can think on her toes. She manages to fit her alter-ego around the loss of her boyfriend on 9/11, while heading a major product launch at work, and trying to overcome her fear of driving.
For those who are wondering just why this Josh is worth all the effort, it is he who helps her exorcise her driving demons in his big BMW with heated seats.
Graff’s novel offers a sparkling insight into the traditions and values of the Jewish faith, as well as giving gentle nudges to the little clichés that go with it: the logic, the guilt, and the women. Yet it also raises the question about staying true to one’s identity, one’s faith in difficult circumstances; and this is talking Jews in New York, not Protestants under Queen Mary.