Peep Show is Joshua Braff’s second novel, which Bill Ott for Booklist calls a “powerful, sensitively told coming-of-age story.” Braff focuses his attention (which often produces hilarious insights) on teenager David Arbus’ struggle to understand his parents’ divorce as well as the divergent and somewhat hypocritical paths they have taken.
The novel begins in 1975 with a loud crash: David awakens to the sound of his mother dropping a television down a long, circular staircase. The television once belonged to David’s father, who is absent from the house. David’s mother is frantically trying to rid the house of all memories of David’s father as she prepares to receive a group of local Hasidic Jews. This is the most important day of her life, she tells David, then she asks him to tear down the ridiculous poster that hangs in his bedroom. Miriam Arbus has been studying for years for this moment when she will be officially sanctioned a baalai teshuva, a convert to the conservative Jewish sect.
David will have nothing to do with the Hasidic Jews; he believes they are trying to live in the twentieth century according to fifteenth-century rules. But his fifteen-year-old sister, Debra, finds herself somewhere in the middle. She has studied the Hasidic rules and is considering conversion—with her mother’s prompting. However, she also admires her brother’s rebellious nature.
David’s father, Martin Arbus, appears and demands to see his children. Martin and Miriam’s voices are raised; they do not get along. Miriam relents and allows Martin to take his teenaged children for a ride into New York City.
Along for the ride is Martin’s live-in girlfriend, Arlene (whose stage name is Brandi Lady). Arlene is a dancer and strip teaser who appears in shows at Martin’s burlesque theater. While they drive to the cemetery where Martin’s father is buried, Arlene applies makeup to Debra’s face. When they get out of the car, Arlene tries to teach Debra how to walk so she will attract male attention. This goes against Hasidic training, but Debra enjoys the freedom of being away from her mother’s control. Debra only partially admires her brother David’s rebellion, though she is not as confident as he is.
Martin has bought David a new camera and encourages him to look around and capture pictures of life. A few days later, Martin takes David to his theater, where David meets other strippers in the show. Before David leaves, one of the girls demonstrates a lap dance (a sexually suggestive performance) for his benefit. David also listens to discussions between his father and his partners about how burlesque is out of fashion and how they must adjust to the times. The way to make money, Martin is told, is to offer sexually explicit peep shows and sell a line of pornographic gadgets.
As he is sorting through a box of photographs that his mother has packed away in the garage with the rest of Martin’s possessions, David comes across an unusual picture that grabs his attention. It is a photo of a stripper, a young woman barely dressed, posing on a stage. Though the women is very young, there is something about her face that reminds David of his mother. When David confronts his father, Martin confirms that that is indeed David’s mother. She used to dance in Martin’s show. That was how they met.
David is angry; he feels that his mother is a fraud. When he confronts her, however, Miriam attacks David, accusing him of wanting to hurt her. After an explosive argument, David moves in with his father and in a few months graduates from high school.
David’s father wants to take his children to the beach. Martin’s birthday is a month away, but he wants to celebrate early. Martin drives to a local Howard Johnson restaurant, where he and David are scheduled to meet Miriam and Debra. However, only Miriam shows up. She tells Martin and David that she is going to remarry. Because of this, she tells them a lot of things are going to change. First of all, she...
(The entire section is 1694 words.)