Braff, Joshua 1967–
BRAFF, Joshua 1967–
PERSONAL: Born 1967, in South Orange, NJ; married; wife's name Jill (a cell-phone game designer); children: Henry, Ella. Education: New York University, B.A.; Saint Mary's College, M.F.A. (creative writing), 1997.
ADDRESSES: Home—Berkeley, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, P.O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2225. E-mail—[email protected]
The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel, Hill, NC), 2004.
Contributor of short fiction to literary journals, including Alaska Quarterly and River Styx.
SIDELIGHTS: Joshua Braff grew up in New Jersey, one of four children of a psychologist mother and lawyer father. The setting of his first novel, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, is also New Jersey and is about a dysfunctional Orthodox Jewish family. Braff's debut was published at about the same time his brother, actor Zach Braff, made his screen-writing and directorial debut with Garden State, in which Zach also acts. Both brothers have as their centerpiece suburban life and romance.
School Library Journal reviewer Susan H. Woodcock called The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green "a funny and thought-provoking coming-of-age journey." Jacob Green is the second child of Abram, a domineering father who is determined to mold his wife and children into the perfect Jewish family. The other children include baby Gabriel, five-year-old Dara, and older brother Asher, whom Jacob idolizes. But cursed with a learning disability, however, Jacob is not able to satisfy his father. The story opens with Abram staging a housewarming party for the neighbors at which he is trying to show that his family is exceptional. The baby is adorable, his wife, Claire, is beautiful, Dara is an outstanding swimmer, and his blond son, Jacob, reads Hebrew "so beautifully it'll make you cry."
Braff told Heidi Benson of the San Francisco Chronicle that "in creating Abram Green, I wanted a certain kind of guy. He's a guy that I have met a few times, in other words, friends' fathers, friends' relatives. What I did was create a hybrid of my father—who was religious and wanted the routines, but was not a maniac or a monster."
As time passes, Asher withdraws into a destructive lifestyle. He is suspended from Hebrew school when he draws a picture of a rabbi having sex with animals. Claire leaves her husband for her college professor after returning to school to pursue a doctorate. Jacob dreams of running away with Asher as the family splits in two. The "unthinkable thoughts" of the title are what help keep Jacob sane. Among his funniest are the pretend bar mitzvah thank-you notes that he creates in his mind. Not so funny is the plight of the boy who is forced by his father to write twenty such notes each evening, all of which are checked for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Of course, Jacob is unable to write twenty perfect notes, and nearly every evening, his father throws a tantrum. Jacob also fantasizes about his live-in nanny. Even as Abram psychologically and verbally abuses Jacob, the boy continues to love him through his fear. He finally comes to realize that Asher isn't going to save him.
Alys Yablon wrote in Jerusalem Report that, "with a keen eye for what's going on below the surface, and a delightful means of deconstructing that reality, Jacob describes a rich fantasy life that reads like a softer version of a Woody Allen voice-over." A Kirkus Reviews critic concluded of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green that "there's no real resolution in this primal scream ripped from adolescence: it's just painfully honest and surprisingly compassionate."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 2004, John Green, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 1815.
Entertainment Weekly, September 10, 2004, Scott Brown, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 171.
Jerusalem Report, January 10, 2005, Alys Yablon, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 41.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2004, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 548.
Library Journal, August, 2004, Kevin Greczek, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 64.
People, August 30, 2004, "Jersey Boys: In Their Respective Film and Novel Debuts, Brothers Zach and Joshua Braff Divide and Conquer Suburbia," p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, August 2, 2004, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 51.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2004, Heidi Benson, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green and interview, p. E1.
School Library Journal, December, 2004, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. 174.
USA Today, September 16, 2004, Jen Chaney, review of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, p. D5.
Joshua Braff Home Page, http://www.joshuabraff.com (February 17, 2005).