• Review
By – January 30, 2023

Scape­goat­ed by Jeff Oliv­er is a nov­el in a unique cat­e­go­ry: tongue-in-cheek with a dark sense of humor. In a slant of the Covid pan­dem­ic, the world in this nov­el is plagued by a faint­ing pan­dem­ic that is sim­i­lar to faint­ing goat syn­drome. The myoton­ic goat, or Ten­nessee faint­ing goat, is an Amer­i­can breed of goat that has a hered­i­tary con­di­tion that caus­es it to stiff­en up and fall over when faced with a poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous situation.

The ill­ness turns out to affect all peo­ple except those of Jew­ish ances­try — a premise that invokes a his­to­ry of anti­semitism sur­round­ing pan­demics. Using tropes from the Holo­caust and neo-Nazis, Oliver’s nov­el does not hold back.

The Schtin­kler fam­i­ly plays the cen­tral role in Scape­goat­ed. Sara is a behav­ioral sci­en­tist who has been study­ing the Ten­nessee faint­ing goats; and just as her fund­ing is about to run out, the world is thrust into the pan­dem­ic. Sara then takes the lead in try­ing to solve the mys­tery and find a cure.

Sara and her fam­i­ly live in a New Jer­sey bed­room com­mu­ni­ty of New York City. Her hus­band, Reuven, is a frus­trat­ed real­i­ty TV pro­duc­er who has lost his way after being named Break­out Writer of his senior class at UBC Film School. Now he is wor­ried that he may not get the pro­mo­tion he feels he deserves. Their son Joshua is short and a late bloomer for a fif­teen-year-old. He is bul­lied at school for look­ing more like a mid­dle school­er than a teenag­er and for being Jewish.

But all that changes when the world con­fronts the faint­ing ill­ness. Hos­pi­tals fill up as a result of peo­ple get­ting hurt when they faint. Soft hel­mets and padding are designed for pro­tec­tion and manda­to­ry to wear. At first the Jews wear the hel­mets to try and blend in, but it quick­ly becomes appar­ent that such blend­ing will not work.

Each of the Schtin­klers reacts to this dis­cov­ery in a dif­fer­ent way. Sara is deter­mined to help ame­lio­rate the prob­lem, con­fi­dent that her years of research will pay off. Reuven, who suf­fered through a mis­er­able child­hood of dis­crim­i­na­tion for being Jew­ish, feels that this is his chance to make up for those years. He joins The Mac­cabees, a group that is going to scare non-Jews in order to take con­trol. Reuven is euphor­ic: he feels redeemed, like he is no longer a cow­ard. Joshua, on the oth­er hand, sees through the hypocrisy and despis­es it. He is aware that his father’s sta­tus will dis­solve when the pan­dem­ic ends.

One of the pos­si­ble solu­tions to end the pan­dem­ic, the Jews are told, is to sep­a­rate them­selves, and they are all flown to Israel. As Sara tries to find answers, some do not want the Jew­ish pow­er to end. They stop at noth­ing to keep Sara from find­ing a cure. In the end, this book takes an out­landish premise and teach­es some impor­tant life lessons.

Mer­le Eis­man Car­rus resides in New Hamp­shire and writes book reviews for the NH Jew­ish Reporter news­pa­per. She is a grad­u­ate of Emer­son Col­lege and received her Mas­ters of Jew­ish Stud­ies from Hebrew Col­lege. She blogs her book reviews at biteofthebookworm@​blogspot.​com

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