Debra Spark,


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  • Finalist, ForeWord Book of the Year Award—General Fiction Category, 2009
  • Winner, Michigan Literary Fiction Prize, University of Michigan Press, 2008

Good for the Jews

Novel. MI: University of Michigan, 2009. 2010.

Good for the Jews is a smart, funny, sexy novel set in Madison, Wisconsin, during the Bush administration. Part mystery and part stranger-comes-to town story, Good for the Jews is loosely based on the Biblical book of Esther, where characters deal with anti-Semitism and the way that powerful men—and the women who love them—negotiate bureaucracies.

At the core of this story of right and wrong are young, attractive Ellen Hirschorn and her older cousin Mose, a high school teacher who thinks he knows, in fact, what is “good for the Jews”—and for Ellen, too. Their stories intertwine with those of the school superintendent, his ex-wife and son, and a new principal. Workplace treachery, the bonds of family, coming of age, and romantic relationships all take center stage as the characters negotiate the fallout from a puzzling fire.


“Commercial publishing seems to be in a completely topsy-turvy state. Here is a smart, sprightly, sex-drenched, and neatly plotted novel about Midwestern high-school administration politics that’s certainly as entertaining as the latest Tom Perrotta novel about small-town East Coast life. And it comes to us from a Midwestern university press, having won its 2009 “Literary Fiction” Award.

From its provocative title onward, the novel moves steadily along, with a layering in of situations with credible and often compelling characters, evolving in ways reminiscent of books as good as George Eliot’s Middlemarch and never averting its eyes from the betrayals and hypocrisy that make life in any town, particularly small Midwestern cities such as Madison, Wisconsin where it’s set, grist for the gossip mills and the focus of serious attention for anyone interested in contemporary American mores.”
—Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune and NPR, “All Things Considered” 

“Spark is at her sly, funny, and cutting best in her third novel, a clever and affecting variation on the Biblical story of Esther. (…) With agile dialogue, escalating weirdness and menace, and tricky questions of lust, love, fear, stereotyping, and hate underlying each hilarious, caustic, and unnerving scene, Spark’s canny novel of outsiders and insiders unveils many hard truths about the enigmas of the self and others in relationships both private and public.”
— Booklist

“Spark’s prose is tight, funny, insightful and occasionally heartbreaking as it probes the current education system, the arts and society’s ills.”
—Publisher’s Weekly