Have You No Shame?
Wed Apr 23 2008
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Being loud, Jewish and female can make you stick out, especially if you’re growing up in Nebraska. Rachel Shukert spent her precocious Omaha girlhood reckoning with all of the above, and in her debut book of autobiographical essays, Have You No Shame?, she deftly pins down the essence of being young, brash and sexually awkward in the ’90s. With an energy that occasionally borders on mania, the author describes the forces that fueled her formative years: the high-minded family spats, the furtive youth-group hook-ups and—most vividly—her overwhelming obsession with the Holocaust. Shukert’s accounts of checking the showerhead for evidence of poison gas, and her repeated underage attempts to borrow Shoah from the library, are recognizable and yet hilariously unpredictable.
Whether recalling a misguided sixth-grade effort to teach English to some Russian students, an encounter with a 16-year-old boy’s HIV paranoia or her hope that a teenage visit to the concentration camps of Poland might cure her ceaseless anxiety, Shukert has a talent for pulling out the gritty, uncomfortable details that bring her stories into sharp relief.
When she gets older, Shukert moves to New York and upgrades her rites of passage to include anorexia and binge-drinking. Looking back on her path through the well-tread fog of young adulthood, her voice wavers a little: Even when she’s laughing at her own absurdity, her grasp on her more grown-up experiences is less assured (or maybe just less remarkable). But in the wrenching final piece, when Shukert returns to Omaha to watch her beloved grandmother fade away, the raw emotion of the earlier essays returns—and packs enough force and honesty to send you reeling.