- 2020–2021 Annual Jewish Book Club Reading Guide – 1 of 10 Fiction Picks
- Finalist – LGBT Fiction, Foreword Magazine's Indies Book Award
If Jane Austen and Sholem Aleichem (Fiddler on the Roof) schemed in an elevator, this just might be their pitch. Ari is Elizabeth and Itche is Jane—and this Jewish, queer, New York City retelling of Pride and Prejudice is for everyone.
Ari Wexler, a trans guy in his late 20s, is barely scraping by. His family life is a mess, he feels like a failure when it comes to love, and his job at a music library is on the rocks. His relationship with Itche Mattes, his doting best friend, helps him get through the days. Then a famous actress comes to town and sweeps Itche off his feet, leaving her dreadful sidekick to step on Ari’s toes.
As Ari’s despair grows, a fascinating music project falls into his lap, and he’s faced with a choice: to remain within his comfort zone, however small and stifling, or to take a risk that could bring meaning and joy to his life.
A romantic comedy full of angsty wrestling matches between idealism and cynicism, work and art, and friendship and romance. It will keep you guessing until the very end.
The Right Thing to Do at the Time
Author: Dov Zeller
Imprint: Tiny Golem Press
Distribution: Everything Goes Media
Page Count: 347 pp.
Pub Date: March 15, 2018
Format: Paperback, 5.5" x 8.5"
Includes: Book club questions
Dov Zeller fell in love with existential comedy when first introduced to the writing of Grace Paley, Bruno Schulz, and Clarice Lispector (Kafka, Ozick, Svevo, and Agnon). But even before he chanced upon his beloved existential comedians, he was drawn toward fictional characters whose tragic dilemmas were half-created and half-resolved by unlikely loves and pratfalls. He is interested in the tragicomic form and the tension between form and function of the comic novel, and intrigued by the places where tragicomedy and existential slapstick meet.
Before getting sick, he struggled to sit still and often read while walking (in between swimming, biking, and yoga). Now he is an intrepid recliner on a handful of couches and love seats. Though sick with a devastating chronic illness, he is determined to appreciate the ecosystems he comes into contact with. As it turns out, even a small world is full of endless complexity.
He enjoys visiting with friends, reading, listening to audiobooks and classical guitar, and observing birds who drop by the window feeder. Zeller has spent the last eight years in Western Massachusetts where he moved in order to complete an MFA in fiction at Umass, Amherst. He has also lived in San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Brooklyn, NY, and he grew up in eastern Pennsylvania.
- The 7 Best Books to Give to Feminist Friends, Pretty Progressive, April, 2019
- Book Review: 'Right Thing' an Entertaining Look at Challenges in Life, The American Israelite, November 21, 2018
- Off the Shelf: Love and Identity, The Reporter Group (Broome County, NY), October 26-November 1, 2018
- Book Bag: The Right Thing to Do at the Time, Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 23, 2018
- The Right Thing to Do at the Time, Paper Brigade, Jewish Book Council, 2018/5778 Edition
- Pride Month Book of the Day, Day 5, Skye Kilean, Planet Jinxatron, June 5, 2018
- Interview with Writer Dov Zeller, The Handy Uncapped Pen, April 13, 2018
- Happy Transgender Day of Visibility! Recent Releases, LGBTQ Reads, March 31, 2018
- A Queer Jewish Author Takes on Jane Austen, Jewcy, March 15, 2018
- A Queer Jewish Author Takes on Jane Austen, Tablet, March 15, 2018
- "The Right Thing to Do at the Time", Reviews by Amos: Books, Movies and Judaica and Random Thoughts About Whatever, March 9, 2018
- New in March, Lambda Literary, March 7, 2018
Sweet, Silly Homage to Austen's Original. The Normalcy with Which His Transness Is Addressed Is Refreshing.
"It's the Jewish, genderqueer update of Pride and Prejudice we've all been waiting for!...The plot pays sweet, silly homage to Austen's original...as Zeller immerses the reader in Jewish New York, complete with bubbies, kugel, and footnotes to translate the generous sprinkling of Yiddish. Ari's deep connection to Jewish music adds touching depth, and the normalcy with which his transness is addressed is refreshing....With corny humor and a knack for inner and outer chaos, Zeller's debut uses a familiar frame to explore the many facets of love--romance, sure, but also intimacy between friends and the painful love of family."
—Susan Maguire, Booklist, February 15, 2018
The Story Scintillates. Charming as Hell. Zeller's Clever Style Is All His Own.
"...[A] sex-positive, LGBTQ-friendly, Jewish, New York City take on Pride and Prejudice, with Aristanding in for Elizabeth Bennett and Itche standing in for Jane. Its character developments toe that line fairly closely,if relationships are often jostled in the mix. That’s where derivations end, though. Zeller’s clever style is all his own. ...[M]ore often than not, the story scintillates. Its language and plot turns are charming as hell, and its awed and irreverent takes on the classics—Austen, yes, but also Jewish tradition more broadly—make it absolutely geshmak—or, if Ari isn’t available to footnote that for you, transcendently delicious. There’s a reason that Austen’s tale of misfits elbowing their way into love became beloved; all of the same ingredientsare operating here, enlivened by a healthy dose of Yiddish humor."
—Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews, March/April 2018, 5 hearts
It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged...
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a book takes your breath away at every other page with its utter gorgeousness, leaving you gaping in awe at the words, you are in danger of turning into a bubbling mess of excitement. And here I stand as a proof of that.From the first page, I was completely engrossed in the story thanks to the brillant writing style and unique narrative perspective. Each sentence is filled with a delightful, witty humour and a bittersweet irony that aims straight for the depths of the human experience."
—Maria Cristina, Good Reads, 5 stars
High-Spirited Romantic Comedy
"A clever, high-spirited romantic comedy that, while structured loosely on Pride and Prejudice, will keep you guessing right up until the end. Zeller's first book is a wise meditation on friendship and love, in which the author coins and illustrates the maxim that 'The distance between friendship and romantic love is never so great that they can’t fall down and knock heads.' This book is bursting with many of my favorite things: witty banter, slapstick humor, soulful music, a blizzard, a beach house, and a dog!"
—Cathy Petrick, Amazon, 5 stars
Wonderful and profound—and a pleasure to read
"It is hard to imagine that a book conceiving of itself as a Jewish trans retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice could succeed at capturing what is most inimitable about Jane Austen—the unpretentious lucidity with which she observes the fullness of the human condition as it is reflected in a small, constrained milieu. Yet Dov Zeller's The Right Thing to Do succeeds wondrously, not least of all because he gets at what, for Franz Rosenzweig, is the core of Jewish existence: the eternal, timeless quality expressed through the repetition of the yearly liturgical cycle. Much like Jane Austen's novels, and like much great Yiddish literature, The Right Thing to Do seems to take place outside of, or at least to the side of history. It lacks the grandiosity that characterizes the typical American novel; it does not collapse, as most "important" American novels do, under the weight of somehow registering the world-historical significance which Americans almost instinctively believe attaches to their existence. Here history touches gently and comically, if not un-seriously, as in the Bar Mitzvah speech, or as a dark limit to understanding, as in the evocations of the melodies of the vanished world of the shtetl. Moreover, non-Jews are almost entirely—perhaps entirely—absent. This might seem like a odd choice in any novel, and especially one about trans- and queer-life: yet it ultimately makes perfect sense. The melodies that Ari transcribes and composes are are essentially Jewish, indeed perhaps only fully legible to those who hear them as the melodies of Jewish prayer, and yet nevertheless exist in a state of continual flux and transformation. The Right Thing to Do similarly, plays around an experience of sexuality that is at once utterly Jewish and utterly queer."
—Anthony Adler, Amazon, 5 stars
An Absolute Delight—Whimsical, Striking, and Very Queer
"Aching with feeling both sad and sweet, alive with wry humor, rich in portrayals of love in all its many changing, enduring, baffling faces—The Right Thing to Do tugs at the heart and upwards at the corners of the mouth all the way through. The characters are humanely, expertly portrayed in their oh-so-inexpert humanity and idiosyncracy. They are characters that are easy to adore, to relate to—and to desperately miss once the last page has been read. It is a triumphant tangle of queer sexuality, romance, and friendship. It is a treasure to have a novel, at last, about queer-platonic (and sometimes less platonic?) love, in all its wacky and wonderful ways. Winding its way between existential comedy, the shadow and structure of Jane Austen, and the sweetness of spiritual song—at once sorrow and exultation—this novel is a delightful mix of the earthy and earthly and the sublime within the lives of queer, trans, and otherwise non-typical protagonists. In that way, the novel is infinitely refreshing—it is populated with characters whose humanity is striking in its realness, and so welcome. All through the book, especially in the second half, the plot accelerates in a way that is believable, delightful—practically itchy in how compelling one's attachment to each character's outcome becomes. This is the kind of queer fiction that deserves to be read—and a first novel at that! It is so funny, and so desperately soulful. Let Mr. Zeller take you into this world for a little while. It might just remind you of the goodness and complexity of the human spirit, of community, of life."
—Amazon reviewer, 5 stars
Deeply moving and hilarious . . . where else could you read about an enlightening conversation with a butter dish?
"I fell deeply in love with the main character Ari, and his best friend Itche too. This imaginative, intelligent and insightful novel had me laughing out loud and crying with the pain of self recognition. The struggles of human relationships (of all kinds) are conveyed with raging wit and with perfect pitch. As each character moved along on their journey , I could barely wait to see how it would all turn out. In the end, both my soul and my funny bone were fulfilled."
—Amazon reviewer, 5 stars
An Excellent Unexpected Find
"This was an excellent unexpected find. A gender-bent, extremely Yiddishistic retelling of Pride and Prejudice with a trans male protagonist, a meddling matchmaker father, a lost-in-thought philosophy-professor mother, a haughty young lady who doesn't know how to express her emotions, and an array of bumbling relatives and acquaintances set on a stage of Torah services, bar mitzvahs, and snowstorms in New York City. As a transgender Jewish librarian I was of course predisposed to enjoy a book whose protagonist is also a transgender Jew who works in a library, and I enjoyed both the intensely Yiddish flavor of the story (is it a Mendele the Book-Peddler comedy or a Sholem-Aleichem style romantic meditation on life?) and the cleverness of the gender-swapped reworking of Austen. Absolutely delighted."
—Sacha L., NetGalley.com, 5 stars
The Characters Are Priceless. Great Dialogues. Great Writing Throughout.
"It's sooooooo CHARMING & MOVING & WONDERFUL!!!!...Dov's talented—insightful, wise, bright as hell—and a born storyteller. The characters are priceless. Great dialogues. Great writing throughout ("I believe you spend your life in some kind of hiding place, and you think you're safe from danger and harm, and one of these days you'll wake up and realize that the thing you're keeping yourself from is fullness".) ...[The Right Thing to Do] is bursting with vibrant characters. . . It's a soulful novel that will steal your heart—hilarious, tender, and deeply affecting!"
—Elyse W., NetGalley.com, 5 stars
This book took my breath away from the first page, then almost every other page was completely and utterly wonderful. I was left in awe and questioning everything I knew.
"I loved this book but it took me a couple days to process this very queer and very Jewish take on Pride and Prejudice. ... It was beautifully written and wonderfully done. This book took my breath away from the first page, then almost every other page was completely and utterly wonderful. I was left in awe and questioning everything I knew. This book had me so engrossed in the storyline. ... The diversity is great in this book. The protagonist is a trans male which is pretty cool. I have heard the representation is very well done from the LGBTQ+ community. There is also a character who is bipolar. I really enjoyed the diversity of this book so much. It was exactly what I have been craving. I love seeing Jane Austen get a modern twist. The book being changed in such a creative manner that gave me a sense of freshness but still felt like the same true Pride and Prejudice story. I really enjoyed that fact."
—Andrea Sicade, NetGalley.com, 5 stars
A Jewel of a Book
A hilarious, intelligent, and brilliantly written retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Dov's portrayal of Judaism and LGBT identities is honest, raw, and powerful. A jewel of a book.
—Andrea Tome, NetGalley.com, 5 stars
Meaning, Humor, and Wonder
"...[I]f you read or listen carefully, there is meaning, humor, and wonder squeezed into every aspect of this book..."
—Shawn Tristan, GoodReads, 5 stars
"To call The Right Thing to Do a take on Pride and Prejudice is to do it a disservice, to imply it is derivative and less than it really is. So instead, picture a take on Pride and Prejudice that is gender-scrambled, and in which nobody is straight and everybody is Jewish. Now picture that this is about one-tenth of the full picture....It's honestly hard to describe why The Right Thing to Do is such a great book without doubling and tripling back on words like 'charming' and 'witty' and 'heartfelt,' so there comes a point when you just have to take it from me: there was not a single second when I regretted or second-guessed every moment I spent reading this book."
—Kei Smith, GoodReads, 5 stars
Read more reviews at GoodReads.