When I checked out The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green from the library, I didn’t at that time realize that it was written by Zack Braff’s brother. I’d like to say that such information wouldn’t have affected my decision to read it (I like to think of myself as above such sensationalism), but I can’t promise anything. At any rate, I didn’t find out until afterwards the familial connection.
I found myself very much drawn into the book. It has a potent humour to it, not unlike Garden State. Synopsis: a young boy with a learning disability and his rebellious older brother struggle to grow up with a narcissistic, strictly Jewish father in the 1970s and ’80s. One immediately feels a sort of hopeless empathy with the boys, and Braff’s dialog is so very realistic and engaging that I found myself whipping through the book at incredible speed.
One thing troubling me, besides the apparent lack of attention to the era, is Braff’s treatment of the narrator’s “learning disability.” We’re given casual mentions of it, but looking back, I start to see it reflected in the narrative style: his continued naïveté even into his middle teens and his childlike attachment to his older brother. I was immediately drawn to the older brother also, partially because he liked Jethro Tull, but also because he was a complete iconoclast, pissing off the rabbis at his yeshiva, or Hebrew school. Unthinkable Thoughts is largely the story of adolescence, and the process whereby the machinations of an archetypal nuclear family are destroyed by outward pressures (in this case, the death of the cult of domesticity and the narcissism that can spring from authority figures) and internal conflict.
Given the many levels and high intensity of conflict in the narrative, readers grow to really desire a resolution, but as one might expect from modern storytelling, there isn’t much to be found by the end. Still, creativity seems to run in the family. Just as Garden State was a quirky, poignant look at disaffection and estrangement, Unthinkable Thoughts is a playful yet disturbing romp through ideas of family and self-actualization.