>It’s 1972. Mandy Charney and Jake Rinehart are 20 years old and in love. Mandy wants to be a poet or a college professor. Jake wants to die, and always has. When he was 8 years old, he was found near the trash incinerator. When asked what he was doing there, he said he wanted to be burned up.
Mandy has been in love with Jake and dreamed of a future with him since they were both 11, but it’s all starting to unravel now that the suicide attempts and frantic journeys to the hospital are becoming more and more frequent. She loves him, calls him often from Sarah Lawrence where she’s going to school, gets angry with him, cheats on him, feels guilty, and wishes he would die. He in turn attempts suicide, apologizes, proposes, withdraws, drags her along to annoying family get-togethers, and goes into panic attack mode on the highway, coming back from one of these shindigs.
I first read this novel when I was right around that age. Mandy and Jake’s romance seemed tragic to me, but they were also so witty, and the way their moods could turn on a dime made perfect sense to me. Even back then, I preferred to read about the most awkward of love affairs that were shot completely through with trouble.
The Petting Zoo is quirky and heartbreaking, and told in short, episodic burst with occasional flash-forwards. Also, if you’re looking for a novel that depicts the Jewish-American experience, this is a good choice.
First published in 1979. 254 pages.