PRETEND PLUMBER

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A plumbing mishap at the home of Hammer’s main character, Hancock Park teenager Sarassine Anfang, opens this antic, plot-driven novel. As she and her friend Charlus alternate between trying to watch the movie Pan’s Labyrinthand practicing for their school’s upcoming production of Twelfth Night, a crusty old handyman and his crew stomp around the house trying to fix the plumbing (“Mr. Pasternak is my grandfather’s handyman and he’s crazy and my father hates him,” Sarassine narrates,“but he does answer the phone right away”). Their antics distract the two young people and reignite Sarassine’s longtime interest in taking matters into her own hands. The plot follows her and her core group of friends through a summer of adventures that include her time at a Jewish summer camp; the book is peppered with Sarassine’s boxed-off explanations of different aspects of her Jewish culture. Her interest in fixing things provides her with increasing satisfaction, and it dovetails neatly with the book’s building themes of personal self-reinvention. Hammer crafts these adventures of her young hero in a stream-of-consciousness flow that jumps from one idea to another at the slightest provocation; it’s clearly intended to mirror Sarassine’s own tendency to become distracted. The benefit of this approach is that it has the effect of sharpening readers’ sense of the protagonist. However, the vague structure also makes the book feel incredibly formless at times. That said, Sarassine and her well-drawn, diverse band of acquaintances have many intriguing encounters, and she’s shown to be always open to exploring “Feelings. New Feelings.”

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