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“Ask for a Convertible follows Osnat’s struggle to find her place in America, and later, Israel, along with a handful of other characters that link back to Osnat immediately — like her homesick mother — or later on, like the immigrant who turns out to be the only Israeli man Osnat ever sleeps with, in the back of her car waiting for her food order to be ready.”
Osnat Greenberg grew up in Israel, in a high-rise apartment overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Her mother is Israeli, her father is American, she has eight cousins and countless second cousins, and her crazy grandmother will only eat yellow food.
(The old woman dies of gas poisoning when she forgets to turn off the stove.)
When Osnat is 13, her father can no longer handle the dirt and din of Tel Aviv, so they move to Michigan.
The remainder of Ask for a Convertible follows Osnat’s struggle to find her place in America, and later, Israel, along with a handful of other characters that link back to Osnat immediately — like her homesick mother — or later on, like the immigrant who turns out to be the only Israeli man Osnat ever sleeps with, in the back of her car waiting for her food order to be ready.
The book is labeled a collection of stories, and particularly in the first half or so we really get this range of plots and voices. We see Osnat as a young girl adjusting to life as an American middle schooler, finding the right socks, and befriending the only boy in class with skin darker than hers.
In another story, an overweight girl gets adopted by Harriet, an overly-paranoid Jewish girl who can’t stop planning for the next Holocaust. Then there’s Noam, an ex-Israeli soldier who moves to America from Israel with his dog and quickly becomes the confidant of the town’s only Jew.
Throughout the book, we revisit these characters at different stages of their lives, until eventually they come together.
In the beginning, these stories are disconnected, but there are hints that they’ll intersect at some point. This had me constantly turning back to previous stories, trying to find the connections. If I put down the book for more than a day (which I only did once), I felt overwhelmed trying to remember who was who. I almost wanted some sort of chart in the front of the book to help me keep everything straight.
It may be that there’s just too much going on, a common problem with new writers. But when things start to come together, it’s as satisfying as fitting together big chunks of a puzzle.
Separately, the characters struggle to find their place in America. When they meet, even if only briefly, they bond over their shared experiences — feelings of dislocation, loneliness, and fear of change.
And as the various characters intersect with Osnat’s life, the book becomes more like a novel than a collection of stories.
As the stories narrow their focus onto Osnat in the last few chapters of the book, however, I found myself missing the variety of perspectives. I grew bored of Osnat’s teenage-like struggles to fit in (though she was pushing 30), and found myself cheering for her mother who urged her daughter to snap out of it. After all, the mother adjusted after a lifetime in Israel. Why shouldn’t Osnat be able to?
Things started to seem repetitious and it was all I could do not to scan the last few chapters. Perhaps it would have been more effective if the stories had been spread out more evenly. It’s too bad that this rather brief section of the book colored an otherwise very enjoyable reading.
In the end, of course, our heroine experiences a rather abrupt revelation (finally!) and that’s that.
I was happy for her, but more so I was just happy the book was over.