Stainer: A Novel of the ‘Me Decade’ by Iolanthe Woulff


Reviewed by Chris Phillips

StainerHow many friends can a freshly 21-year old Jewish man make in a few days or at least in a few months? Benjamin Steiner is just such a person. He has just turned twenty-one, and he is a junior at Columbia. He lives in a Jewish hostel-type building with several others. The building, Rabbi Yitzhak Teller Memorial Residence Hall, is a converted abandoned building that houses Jewish scholars from Columbia. It is known as Beit Yitzhak or “B.” This is the focal point for much of the action here, but don’t believe for a minute that young Ben, embarking on his 21st birthday celebration, is going to be hampered by old traditions. Tonight is the time to get experience that has been denied him so far in life.

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The story begins as Ben journeys to the “B” for the party that comes at the end of finals week. It is the highlight of the “B’s” season and one where Ben hopes to at least meet an attractive girl before the end of this birthday evening.
In a strangely prescient encounter, Ben meets a street evangelist with a sign, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, Galatians 6:7.” This night is going to be one of Ben’s most memorable.

So comes the party. Ben is an active participant and anxious to see what new people might show up. This fateful night, Ben meets two very particular people. Rebecca Glaser is the girl of his dreams that comes to the party and eventually moves into the “B.” P.T. Deighland is the friend of a younger brother of a resident at the “B.” This explains the major thrust of the story.
The tale starts slowly but actually builds through the slowness into an in-depth analysis of a young man messing up his life in celebrating his 21st birthday.

Things keep getting worse and worse. There are times when Ben looks like he is destined to become another statistic but always a redeeming factor brings him back.

The next few months become a dichotomy, with Ben hiding the other side of his life from those Jewish friends that are residents and friends of his from before the fateful party.

There is a climactic, desperate and final crash that shakes Ben to his roots and makes him realize that sometimes friends are not friends, but users and abusers.

The story is one of loss and redemption with a properly ironic twist and ending.

This reviewer would recommend this book for any interested in coming of age books, in Manhattan college life and just life in general. It would be of particular interest to those who have read Iolanthe Woulff’s previous book, She’s My Dad.
5/5 Stars.