British author Charlotte Mendelson gives us the Rubin family of Hampstead in her novel, "When We Were Bad". The family, super-star Rabbi Claudia Rubin - picture buxom beauty Nigella Lawson wearing a tallis - and her author-husband Norman, have raised together four children, all of whom are still part of the family, even at the advanced ages of early 30's and late 20's. Claudia is the firmament around which the other family members move and to whom they owe their love, livelihoods, and most of all, allegiance. "Rabbi Claudia" is the most famous, "out-there", rabbi in London and is a popular author, speaker, and...rabbi to her congregation in Belsize Park.
Claudia Rubin could be called a narcissist, I suppose; totally without a sense of humor about her family and world, she expects everyone to do and everything to be to her liking. Her four children, Frances, married to a widower and the mother of a young son; Leo, about to marry in a huge wedding, deserts his bride at the altar and runs off with the officiating rabbi's wife; Simeon, a young druggy and lay-about who adores his mother; and Emily, a late 20's woman who also can't get her life together. Norman is an habitually failed biographer, happy to let wife Claudia be the star in the family. Rabbi Claudia would like to present her family to the world as "perfect", but the reality of the situation begins to erase the perception.
Charlotte Mendelson's novel is a comedy-of-manners, though, as I write this review, I'm making the characters and the plot sound, well, grim. The plot covers a four or five month period in the Rubin family's life, beginning with Leo deserting his bride and ending a few nights after the Passover seder-from-hell. During that time, the children and Norman "find" themselves, in word and deed, and Rabbi Claudia's life is never the same. But, it really shouldn't be, as the reader finds out.
This book is a tough one to rate. I found it 5 star delightful but others won't. I didn't mind putting up with Rabbi Claudia and her narcissism but then I like characters with an edge. If you're thinking of buying this book, please read all the other reviews. Most are valid, I think. Then choose.