Yoga teacher novel starts strong but fizzles

February 26, 2008 10:17:48 AM PST
"Fear and Yoga in New Jersey" by Debra Galant: Like her first novel, "Rattled," Debra Galant's new book is a comedy of modern life in a New Jersey suburb. And it starts out, anyway, with promise.

Nina is a yoga teacher whose studied calm on the job masks an increasingly out-of-control domestic life. Her normally sober-minded husband is laid off work in an outsourcing, and proceeds to blunder into misadventures with a hard-nosed Homeland Security agent and a lap-dancer named Xenon. Nina's son, seduced by attending an opulent bat mitzvah, decides he wants a bar mitzvah, taking advantage of the Jewish roots Nina had rejected in favor of Unitarianism. And Nina's parents, including her overbearing and suspicious mother, drop in for a visit.

The story unfolds in a series of scenes that rotate among the main characters. It gets off to a promising start with some funny situations and good one-liners.

A beginning yoga student, meekly entering a class during quiet time, adopts "an exaggerated pretense of civility, or else her interpretation of Marcel Marceau imitating a burglar." A wealthy high school student who bought a souped-up iPod with her ton of bat mitzvah money passes on her old one to a friend "like it was a half-eaten tuna sandwich." A rabbi bears "a full beard with the texture of a Brillo pad."

Just as enticing are Galant's takes on suburban life, such as her descriptions of the women in Nina's yoga classes. And the author deftly portrays the petty resentments that build up between spouses.

As Nina's life unravels, it looks like the story is headed toward an inventive, screwball climax. But then, somehow, the fizz goes flat. Instead, toward the end of the book, loose ends are tied up in a way that is, well, workmanlike.

Nonetheless, it's a breezy read, a beach book. If that's what you're after, this will do the trick.

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