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*A New York Times Notable Book* “Funny, painful, outrageous . . . Anya Ulinich is the David Sedaris of Russian-American cartoonists.” —Gary Shteyngart Anya Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, often unmooring world of “grown-up” dating in this darkly comic graphic novel. After her fifteen-year marriage ends, Lena Finkle gets an eye-opening education in love, sex, a *A New York Times Notable Book* “Funny, painful, outrageous . . . Anya Ulinich is the David Sedaris of Russian-American cartoonists.” —Gary Shteyngart Anya Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, often unmooring world of “grown-up” dating in this darkly comic graphic novel. After her fifteen-year marriage ends, Lena Finkle gets an eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss when she embarks on a string of online dates, all while raising her two teenage daughters. The Vampire of Bensonhurst, the Orphan, Disaster Man, and the Diamond Psychiatrist are just a few of the unforgettable characters she meets along the way. Evoking Louis C. K.’s humor and Amy Winehouse’s longing and anguish, and paying homage to Malamud and Chekhov, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is a funny and moving story, beautifully told.


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*A New York Times Notable Book* “Funny, painful, outrageous . . . Anya Ulinich is the David Sedaris of Russian-American cartoonists.” —Gary Shteyngart Anya Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, often unmooring world of “grown-up” dating in this darkly comic graphic novel. After her fifteen-year marriage ends, Lena Finkle gets an eye-opening education in love, sex, a *A New York Times Notable Book* “Funny, painful, outrageous . . . Anya Ulinich is the David Sedaris of Russian-American cartoonists.” —Gary Shteyngart Anya Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, often unmooring world of “grown-up” dating in this darkly comic graphic novel. After her fifteen-year marriage ends, Lena Finkle gets an eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss when she embarks on a string of online dates, all while raising her two teenage daughters. The Vampire of Bensonhurst, the Orphan, Disaster Man, and the Diamond Psychiatrist are just a few of the unforgettable characters she meets along the way. Evoking Louis C. K.’s humor and Amy Winehouse’s longing and anguish, and paying homage to Malamud and Chekhov, Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is a funny and moving story, beautifully told.

30 review for Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greta G

    "An entertaining intellect wrapped in ill-fitting clothes" Kirkus Reviews If you're looking for a graphic novel, this is not the book you should read. No, it's not a novel either. This is a book like no other ; a patchwork of memories, emotions and experiences, panels bursting with words and drawings, a sketchbook crowded with dialogue and stream of consciousness monologue. It requires some strenuous effort from the reader to persevere. This unusual, verbose autobiographical graphic memoir feels "An entertaining intellect wrapped in ill-fitting clothes" Kirkus Reviews If you're looking for a graphic novel, this is not the book you should read. No, it's not a novel either. This is a book like no other ; a patchwork of memories, emotions and experiences, panels bursting with words and drawings, a sketchbook crowded with dialogue and stream of consciousness monologue. It requires some strenuous effort from the reader to persevere. This unusual, verbose autobiographical graphic memoir feels claustrophobic and the first quarter of the book will likely drive you crazy. Lena Finkle, the author's alter ego, is a 37 year old Russian Jewish new immigrant. She's the mother of two teenage girls and recently divorced from her second husband after 15 years of hostile marriage. She tries to get back on her feet, solely responsible for her life for the first time, writes a successful novel. With the help of an online dating site, she starts dating men (view spoiler)[with little success to the amusement of the reader (hide spoiler)] . On a bus ride, she meets a man who's reading Bernard Malamud's book The Magic Barrel, and they start dating. He seems to be a sensitive but damaged man who calls himself "The Orphan". For several months they are inseparable, have good sex and share their most intimate stories and feelings, until suddenly, The Orphan dumps her and leaves her heartbroken. The book not only deals with the online dating and her romance with The Orphan, but also with her youth and education, an incident of sexual abuse she endured as a child, the relationship with her parents and friends, her marriages, parenthood, writing and books. The author exposes herself in a way not many women would have the courage to do. I've never seen a better representation of the despair one feels after being unexpectedly and inexplicably dumped by a loved one. Why? Was The Orphan nothing but an emotional tourist? The second part of the book that deals with this loss and grief is quite powerful. This supposedly graphic novel offers several interesting literary allusions. The title, and the name of the author's alter ego Lena Finkle, are references to the short story The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud. This story is about Joe Finkle, who wants to become a rabbi and who enlists the help of a Jewish matchmaker to find a wife. This matchmaker draws the proposed matches from his "magic barrel", with uncertain results. There's also a reference to Chekhov's short story "The Darling", in which a woman has several relationships and totally adopts the man's interests, identities and concerns. She seems not to be able to think and live for herself. In one of the panels, Lena Finkle has an imaginary conversation with Philip Roth about how men can get away with writing about themselves and their sexual exploits and women can't. The unconventional way this author lays herself bare can indeed be threatening to certain readers. A grownup, divorced woman with teenage children shouldn't be like this. Her "magic barrel" should be empty. She should be "a darling".

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    You may feel alone when you're falling asleep And every time tears roll down your cheeks But I know your heart belongs to someone you've yet to meet And someday you will be loved ~Benjamin Gibbard My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department. When Lena Finkle is sent to Russia for a week to lecture about being a fancy AMERICAN NOVELIST, she reconnects with an old flame, a creature that was half man, half nostalgia. Though he is married, she's smitten and spends scads of time You may feel alone when you're falling asleep And every time tears roll down your cheeks But I know your heart belongs to someone you've yet to meet And someday you will be loved ~Benjamin Gibbard My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department. When Lena Finkle is sent to Russia for a week to lecture about being a fancy AMERICAN NOVELIST, she reconnects with an old flame, a creature that was half man, half nostalgia. Though he is married, she's smitten and spends scads of time contemplating a life with this man. When a female friend discovers that 37-year-old Lena has only been with three men, she suggests Lena try dating and gaining more experience before committing to one man again. And where to meet a veritable smorgasbord of men? Why, online dating, of course! Lena's dating experiences are both hilarious and heartbreaking. With her daughters away for a few weeks, she has a date a night with men ranging from a guy who grew up in a cult to a revolutionary puppeteer to a blind clown. Most of the dates are not detailed in the book, though that would have been something to see. Don't worry, there are plenty of cringe-worthy dates for the reader to tag along on. Please don't consider my rating/review to be a recommendation. This book struck a very personal chord with me at this particular time in my life. You see, while I did not exactly marry young (29 is lifelong spinster territory in some cultures!), I'd only ever had one previous long-term relationship. This line from the book - ...people who get together young and stay together a long time are like two bonsai trees planted in the same pot...they don't grow much... - really hit me. Have I sacrificed something by spending 23 years with the same man? I've spent a lot of time squashing around with a bad case of the What-ifs. Well, judging from Lena's experiences, I really haven't missed much - some laughs, some heartbreak, some good stories to share. Would I trade it all for an evening with a blind clown? Sometimes, I'm tempted to say yes, but... As Lena's friend Eloise explains, "I love waking up every morning next to a man who really loves me..." Yup. I do.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Raina

    Bread and butter, friends. This thing is my bread and butter. I could read this shit all day long. Thank you - so much, Meghan, for pointing this book out to me. Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel seems to be a barely veiled autobiographical tale. Lena is a 37-year-old woman who is getting divorced. Here, she decides to enter the dating pool again. We learn about her childhood (mostly lived in Russia), her familial relationships (she has two daughters), her life as a famous novelist, her friendships, her Bread and butter, friends. This thing is my bread and butter. I could read this shit all day long. Thank you - so much, Meghan, for pointing this book out to me. Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel seems to be a barely veiled autobiographical tale. Lena is a 37-year-old woman who is getting divorced. Here, she decides to enter the dating pool again. We learn about her childhood (mostly lived in Russia), her familial relationships (she has two daughters), her life as a famous novelist, her friendships, her exploits with men (sadly, she only experiments with straight relationships). There's a literary allusion folded in here, and she goes into some detail about her relationships and romantic choices. Long-term, short-term, personal reflection, grown-up decisions. Love it. Though speech bubbles are everywhere, most of the book doesn't have more than one panel to a page. Which is good, because most of the pages are cram-packed with text. It's all black and white, which gives the feeling of an art-journal or sketchbook, rather than a more fully-produced graphic novel. Flipping through the book, I'm struck by the beauty of these layouts. I was a little let-down by the ending, but I think that's because I simply didn't want it to end. I wanted to know Lena's next choice, and where it led her. I found myself reading portions out to other people in the room. I identified with Lena's story - of late romantic experimentation, of intentional & cerebral self-experimentation, of personal reinvention, of finding the boundaries between adult behavior and freedom. Of responsibility, and impulse, and knowing you're hurting future-you but not caring. Of irrational despair. Yeah, might need to own this one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Schaafsma

    Autobiographical fiction thinly veiled, seems to me, about a woman with two teenaged daughters who dumps her husband and eventually goes on the dating scene, encountering what we have come to expect, humorous losers and some interesting guys, too. It's meant to seem like a lot of ideas and sketches are put on cocktail napkins, scraps of paper, journals, wherever, and these get represented here, pretty interestingly. A lot of words. Too many for my taste in the medium. I think women, anyone, I gu Autobiographical fiction thinly veiled, seems to me, about a woman with two teenaged daughters who dumps her husband and eventually goes on the dating scene, encountering what we have come to expect, humorous losers and some interesting guys, too. It's meant to seem like a lot of ideas and sketches are put on cocktail napkins, scraps of paper, journals, wherever, and these get represented here, pretty interestingly. A lot of words. Too many for my taste in the medium. I think women, anyone, I guess, who has done a lot of online dating would like this. It's intensively, obsessively reflective (and often graphically funny) on various related topics, where she constantly talks with her friend about her choices, and she also has a small version of herself she talks with throughout dates and the whole process. I thought it was just okay for most of it, then got a little hooked when The One Good Guy came around, and that struggle ensued.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I loved this book so much. Anya Ulinich covers a lot of vastly disparate territory, which this medium is perfect for: Lena Finkle's traumatic introduction to sex, shellshocking immigrant experience, parenthood and online dating travails are all handled with the same deft touch. Ulinich has the innate capability to be very funny and very serious simultaneously -- a rare gift. The relationship depicted in the latter half of this book will ring heartbreakingly true to anyone who's ever found him or I loved this book so much. Anya Ulinich covers a lot of vastly disparate territory, which this medium is perfect for: Lena Finkle's traumatic introduction to sex, shellshocking immigrant experience, parenthood and online dating travails are all handled with the same deft touch. Ulinich has the innate capability to be very funny and very serious simultaneously -- a rare gift. The relationship depicted in the latter half of this book will ring heartbreakingly true to anyone who's ever found him or herself with a surplus of love to give and no one to give it to but someone who definitely doesn't deserve it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    First, I don't think this is a graphic novel. I think it is an illustrated novel. It may sound like splitting hairs, but I think it is a distinction that may impact your expectations about this book. The art really doesn't propel the text-heavy story in any significant way. Many pages are just text with a drawing of the author's face staring out at you. It's a style that tended to frustrate my wavering sympathies for the self-involved narrator. "I know I'm ranting, but hey, here's my face. This c First, I don't think this is a graphic novel. I think it is an illustrated novel. It may sound like splitting hairs, but I think it is a distinction that may impact your expectations about this book. The art really doesn't propel the text-heavy story in any significant way. Many pages are just text with a drawing of the author's face staring out at you. It's a style that tended to frustrate my wavering sympathies for the self-involved narrator. "I know I'm ranting, but hey, here's my face. This can be all loose and 'Experimental' because it's not a real novel! Here's my face again!" Did you ever spend a drunken evening listening to a heartbroken friend who just needed to ramble and really had no interest in you at all? That's this book. Your degree of sympathy for Lena Finkle may be more generous than mine, but I would say that I was slightly less amused than frustrated by her navelgazing neuroses. For me, that was not a ratio that would lead to a recommendation. Also, she often considers the opinions of a little pocket-sized critical version of herself. I mean, Jesus, seriously? Great cover, though.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rod Brown

    This book is so tediously awful that I almost stopped reading at page 50. But I decided to hate read it all the way to the end so my condemnation couldn't be dismissed with a simple, "Well, he didn't read the whole thing." Reading this book is the equivalent of being stuck on a eight-hour bus ride next to a person who will just not shut up about themselves for even a single second. Giant word balloons and captions literally crowd the mediocre art off half the pages. It would be easy to take away t This book is so tediously awful that I almost stopped reading at page 50. But I decided to hate read it all the way to the end so my condemnation couldn't be dismissed with a simple, "Well, he didn't read the whole thing." Reading this book is the equivalent of being stuck on a eight-hour bus ride next to a person who will just not shut up about themselves for even a single second. Giant word balloons and captions literally crowd the mediocre art off half the pages. It would be easy to take away the art, typeset the text and publish this as a short story. I wish that had been the case, because then I never would have picked this up. Damn my compulsive need to read every graphic novel I come across!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Ulinich does something extraordinary here by combining her storytelling and drawing skills to create an absorbing graphic novel featuring the drama of an adult woman searching for love. This is not ordinary entertainment, but instead a realistic and riveting examination of the vicissitudes of finding love and keeping it. Lena Finkle is the twice-divorced mother of two who is about to get herself involved in an inter-continental relationship with a married man. When a friend wisely suggests Lena g Ulinich does something extraordinary here by combining her storytelling and drawing skills to create an absorbing graphic novel featuring the drama of an adult woman searching for love. This is not ordinary entertainment, but instead a realistic and riveting examination of the vicissitudes of finding love and keeping it. Lena Finkle is the twice-divorced mother of two who is about to get herself involved in an inter-continental relationship with a married man. When a friend wisely suggests Lena get more experience with men before she jumps into another unsuitable relationship, Lena forays into the world of online dating. Lena’s trenchant observations about her stumbling first steps in this direction are cringe-worthy best friend talk, admitting confusion, bad choices, and failure. To top it off, Lena has a homunculus on her shoulder making snide asides and expressing the observations Lena’s less rational side needs to hear. There is an energy in this novel that derives from the combination of cartoonish drawings and the wrenching real-life agony of misplaced and unrequited love. References to the online dating site OkCupid lower the tone; comparisons of Lena’s work as a novelist with Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Anton Chekov heighten the tension. It is an absurdist romp with heartbreaking consequences, and yes, this is indeed a sort of classic literature filled with naked vulnerability and deep intelligence. There is movement, introspection, growth, and understanding. The central character, a Russian, a Jew, and a mother, has all the strengths and weaknesses of those categories we use for shorthand. Lena denies her Jewish background (“I fail the faith test in God”) at the same time she pulls out her angst for us to contemplate. “Oh my God, I’m turning into a Russian wife!” she exclaims when she instinctively over-cares for her sick lover. In the next line she denies being slotted into that category: “I will never, ever be a Russian wife!” She is practical and loving as a mother, and also claims to be “impersonating a mother” when her love affair goes sideways. She tosses her homunculus into the gutter: “Your knee-jerk skepticism, your materialist rationality, and your stupid irony—what use are they to me now?” Buying a pair of shoes might set off a flood of introspection, self-criticism, and a peering into the larger society: “buying a pair of red shoes wouldn’t constitute a punishable offense, but would certainly invite questions…which would load the shoes with too much significance to ever actually wear…which is why married people in Brooklyn are stuck in horrible moccasins and fleece sweaters they buy online…” The Scottish philosopher-lawyer-author Alexander McCall Smith couldn’t have said it better. The man she chose to learn from was not the perfect man: he was a device for making her more self-aware and accepting. Lena wanted to ignore her homunculus and friend Yvonne who told her not to close her eyes to the bright yellow caution tape in his conversation. Lena needed to be able to see, to listen to her homunculus even when she didn’t want to. Finally, understanding dawns. “No one ever really arrives. We just nudge each other along muddy ruts of suffering, occasionally peeking over the edges of our ruts in search of a better way.” The name of Ulinich’s central character, Lena Finkle, is derived from two references that situate the character in the absurdist canon. Lena Dunham’s droll movie, Tiny Furniture, about a college graduate moving back into her mother’s apartment in the City, has an unforgettable scene about the struggle for intimacy—in a street-side construction pipe. This same hilarious and breathtakingly painful description of the nakedness of one’s need is keenly described in drawings and thought bubbles by Ulinich. The second reference is derived from Bernard Malamud’s story, “Magic Barrel,” in which a man, Leo Finkle, asks for help from a matchmaker in finding a mate. Leo Finkle is a rabbinical student doing what was expected of him until one day he realized he had no faith! This set off a depression which led him to a “panicked grasping” of a young woman which he called “love.” I can’t recommend this novel more highly. Its dark humor and anguished understanding ties into some of the great literature of the 19th and 20th centuries but in a format that is finally coming into its own in the 21st century. The graphic novel format is uniquely suited to Ulinich’s skills. As always when an author manages a breathtaking high-wire act, I wonder if it can be replicated. But no matter, enjoy this one for what it is—an astonishing and absorbing example of high-intensity literature for our time. Many kudos to Ulinich for reminding us of Malamud's delicious little story once again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Lena Finkle is a picara, thawing her freeze-dried heart in the swampy terrain between the legacy of Bernard Malamud's marriage broker and the promise of OkCupid. Her pencil sketches the twisted moments on love's gameboard with hilarious acerbity, as she follows cocky Fedora-clad hipsters across a Brooklyn cityscape of trendy watering holes and peeling loft spaces. Ulinich uses details and visual devices to great effect, from the love-quest skills jotted on cocktail napkins in blow-up, to the rep Lena Finkle is a picara, thawing her freeze-dried heart in the swampy terrain between the legacy of Bernard Malamud's marriage broker and the promise of OkCupid. Her pencil sketches the twisted moments on love's gameboard with hilarious acerbity, as she follows cocky Fedora-clad hipsters across a Brooklyn cityscape of trendy watering holes and peeling loft spaces. Ulinich uses details and visual devices to great effect, from the love-quest skills jotted on cocktail napkins in blow-up, to the repeated Victorian love note borders of a lovelorn duck, ornamenting the heartbreak phase of one chapter. Rueful, smart, funny, perceptive, she has an immigrant's eye for the narcissistic excessses of urban dating rituals, suggesting both their absurdity and inevitabilty. Her stylish night scenes -- chalking outlines on black with pinpricks of the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, or haunted insomiac eyes in a fury of self-recrmination interrupted by child demands for cuddling -- demonstrate her imaginative range. Only a peculiar sensibility forged in Soviet tower blocks and nourished on hidden passions for great poetry, can ricochet so adeptly between besotted and scathing. The divorcee Lena x-rays the souls of her 30-something dating prospects, even as she gulps down huge servings of their hot bodies. No woman with a brain finds love easy, and that toilsome challenge comes across in clouds of hand-lettered interior monologue, sometimes with a tiny SuperEgo, commenting,criticizing, carping. Enough already, Yid-superego may be tossed down the sewer slot -- if only mom's admonitions could be excised so easily.. Unlike the picaresque genre (rarely the default mode for female protagonists), this sexual adventurer can't tune out the cacophonous competing channels of second thoughts in her mind, even when her body loves to love. But that super-layered consciousness is the soul of the page, and gives the carnality its gourmet flavor. A pleasure to look, a treat to read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Maas

    5 Stars for this Coming of Age Graphic Novel I picked this up from the library on purpose - to get something I don't normally go for. And although I don't normally go for these kinds of books - self-absorbed dramas that are basically about how important it is to have a boyfriend - Anya Ulinich's overwhelming talent is able to overcome this premise. Backhanded compliment over - now on to why it is great. First of all, the artwork is fantastic. Full page drawings that come at you with full force. Ver 5 Stars for this Coming of Age Graphic Novel I picked this up from the library on purpose - to get something I don't normally go for. And although I don't normally go for these kinds of books - self-absorbed dramas that are basically about how important it is to have a boyfriend - Anya Ulinich's overwhelming talent is able to overcome this premise. Backhanded compliment over - now on to why it is great. First of all, the artwork is fantastic. Full page drawings that come at you with full force. Very little negative space, a lot of self-portraits. Just great. Second of all, in all the ramblings of - again - how important it is to have a boyfriend - there is tremendous insight. I particularly like one passage when a friend is advising her on her most recent time being dumped by a guy who apparently liked her, her kids, and never fought. Paraphrasing here - but the friend says 'Of course you never fought and he loved your kids, because he was a tourist to your heart. He visited all your friends, and hung out with your kids, and was nice - because he knew he was going to leave. He even did some charity work on you like people might do on vacation, but he was great because he knew he was going to leave.' So yeah stick with this one even if it is not your style - you won't regret it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel MacNaught

    An inner dialogue as clustered and ordered as real thoughts, this graphic novel gave me my Oprah moment. You know that Oprah moment. When the the camera would pan to the audience and land on a face full of "YES. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR" understanding while you, the listless observer surfing channels, drew nothing of revelation? It also occurs in fanatic political or religious rallies. Well, this gave me one. It wasn't a revelation, it was a YES. THIS IS WHAT THOUGHTS ARE LIKE. THIS I An inner dialogue as clustered and ordered as real thoughts, this graphic novel gave me my Oprah moment. You know that Oprah moment. When the the camera would pan to the audience and land on a face full of "YES. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR" understanding while you, the listless observer surfing channels, drew nothing of revelation? It also occurs in fanatic political or religious rallies. Well, this gave me one. It wasn't a revelation, it was a YES. THIS IS WHAT THOUGHTS ARE LIKE. THIS IS HOW MORAL LINES ARE BLURRED. This felt real. It felt substantial. It made a guttural, "HOLY SHIT. THIS MAN IS A PIECE OF SHIT," scratch out of my throat moments before I accepted that I AM that man in the story. My villainy was shown as beautiful and immature and empty as it is. And it made me remember those nights I WAS Lena, without ever taking away the power of either side of the dynamic. Anyway. I enjoyed it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I feel sorta bad that I didn't like this, when so many others really took it to heart. I couldn't stand all those chalky black pages with horrible drawings and great swathes of text. I'm not against neuroticism or soul-searching (I don't think), but the art was so off-putting. I couldn't get past it, nor warm to the character in spite of it. Ah well.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

    Full Review with pictures at the blog, Books & Bowel Movements “Single women and men should be able to float toward each other on the waves of lust and goodwill!” By Cassie Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich The number of post-it notes I used on this book alone could cover a small dog house. Can I say this is the best adult graphic novel ever without having read every other adult graphic novel? Do I sound like my mother after she praised that really bad eighth grade haircut and told me that w Full Review with pictures at the blog, Books & Bowel Movements “Single women and men should be able to float toward each other on the waves of lust and goodwill!” By Cassie Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich The number of post-it notes I used on this book alone could cover a small dog house. Can I say this is the best adult graphic novel ever without having read every other adult graphic novel? Do I sound like my mother after she praised that really bad eighth grade haircut and told me that we would just “run to Target and get some cute clips.” Thanks for the alliteration, Mom, but it was disastrous, for both my seventh grade high-status at the lunch table and my personal beliefs in my own self-esteem. God made my mom sorta-Catholic so she could lay down the guilt via lectures, missed phone calls, and sweetness (yes, even her sweetness is guilty). I can ONLY imagine if she was a Jewish Russian Immigrant mother from the U.S.S.R like Lena Finkle’s mother in Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich. The world would literally be quaking. Literally. Literally. Literally. Isn’t it annoying when people say that when you know they meant it literal to begin with and it’s not a hyperbole at all? Ask yourself that. Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is like the story of womanhood as it pertains to the male sex, and girlhood in general. It begs several questions: *How many friends do you have that disappear as soon as they get boyfriends? *How many of those friends become the stuck-up dark, unknown regions of their boyfriend’s body as soon as they begin dating? *How many times have you been unhappy, and unable to be yourself because you’re trying to keep the peace between you and the obnoxious invaluable boy you’re dating? *How many times has a guy smiled at you and BAM you’ve planned you’re 3.7892 children? Miracles. Miracles. *(Longest sentence ever) How many times have you let one small miracle of a man blast your entire view of manhood and your princess experience into this other-worldly category that no one will ever be able to compete with because he was too good at ________ and all others will miserably fail in comparison and forever be the “frogs” you have to kiss because OH MY SWEET LORD, HE WALKED ME HOME IN THE RAIN AND MADE FACES AT ME IN ENGLISH 101 which I, unfortunately, got a C in because I was too busy MAKING FACES AT A BOY who would ruin my whole ideal of what it is to fall slowly. There is no slow with these miracle men who tell you fascinating things about yourself and then become chain-smoking losers. Yep. You know who I’m talking about. *How many times have you said, “Well, it isn’t really about how he looks?” Girl, please. It is 120% about how he looks in the first moment you meet. And you have already judged the scar next to his mouth and the way one of his eyes looks a little bit smaller than the other. And you’ve already texted your equivalent to a Seth (my best guy friend) to tell him all about him…in the bathroom. When Anya Ulinich originally illustrated in color. From her Tumblr BLOG *How many times have you let your past experiences with men like all of the above dictate what kind of dater you are now? *How many times have you wished for a magic barrel? And no, I don’t mean online dating here. (Even though she does that in the story on OK Cupid…which reminded me to never, ever, ever online date, ever. “Vampire of Bensonhurst,” that’s all I have to say about that one). Well, ladies, all of your (desperate, berating, disgusting, upsetting, I-dont-want-to-be-this-girl-but-I-am-this-girl, when-did-I-become-this-girl) questions have been answered by Anya Ulinich and the story of Lena Finkle. Lena Finkle is an immigrant girl living in Arizona/New York. During the story we learn about her childhood, a very disgusting happening in an elevator, and then her teenage love, Alik, who she continues to fantasize about …until she’s 36. She has some bad habits; sleeping around on the first date, sleeping with married men in foreign countries, being too blunt with her friends when they don’t have the same feelings towards her month-long flings as she does, but she’s SO likable. There were moments in this book when I had to remind myself that Ulinich wasn’t telling my life story. After reading it, I progressed to have a conversation with my best friend (Seth) about which countries we were because of the following images: image 3 I wonder if everyone has dated the “tourist.” The guy that comes and goes without giving even a half-nod towards closure. Which makes the girl stay up until 2 a.m. because she can’t quite figure out what she did wrong. Turns out, it’s him. But she won’t know that for 7.2 years when she forgives herself for being “that girl,” and finally moves on. image 4 Seth said, “Cassie. you are Sweden. // but we both can’t be Sweden // I’ll be Norway. boys are more exotic there.” And then he said, “You are Santorini // white pale and stunning // and surrounded by beautiful men.” And that folks, is why you keep best friends since 6th grade. Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends By the way, he’s the following: “You are Alaska where they have 37 words for snow and only one word for love because when you feel it like that it doesn’t need 700 words.” ———————————- Anyway, enough about me. This book is wonderful. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this endless pool of Mr. Right/Soul Mate/Marriage business. I don’t know why there’s so much pressure on women anyway to put on that white dress and take another last name. Lena Finkle made me feel like that was okay. Although, she was a little desperate, a little quick, and a little uncanny at times, so am I. I had a 30 minute conversation today about how blunt one should be with their friends. In case you’re wondering, I’m the blunt, bitchy friend in my circle of friends so usually people only come to me with a problem when they want the truth as I see it. (That was all about me, sorry). The graphics in this book are stunning. Most of the time I just wanted to laugh out loud at the illustrations to the side of all the words. I think that’s what makes this graphic novel so perfect, Ulinich found the perfect genre to tell a tale of sadness, pity, and redemption because there were laughable moments due to the comic nature of the graphic novel. (I guess they can be dark and brooding as well). When words got too dark on the page, I could count on an illustration that made it just that little bit better. The hope was in the hand drawn panels, faces, and bittersweet graphics. One of my favorite pages. Penguin had the right customer when they sent me an ARC of this one. It’s just beautiful in all ways. I think every woman should have to read this book just to think a little different about their friend’s experiences. Yes, we all get annoyed with that friend who’s constantly talking about a guy that is SO NOT RIGHT for her, but that’s what friends are for, because they’re forever. Yvonne and Eloise lift Lena up to be a better woman. She may not always listen to their advice, and they might not even follow their advice, but they give her that little nudge she may need to see things differently. Not only are they gem friends in this novel, but Lena’s subconscious acts as another character as well. At one point, Lena is obsessed with a man who already broke her heart, and she becomes the graphic image of a duck. Her subconscious picks at her, tells her inner thoughts and her “what ifs” just like that small inner voice that we all carry that whispers “stuff” when we just don’t want to hear it. Mine always says, “Told ya so,” A LOT. Lena as Duck Her subconscious is an integral part of the illustrations (she’s small, the same size as the duck Lena becomes), but she’s also witty and forward. She’s what we want to say to ourselves when we should put our foot in our mouth. I really liked that real-life aspect of this novel because it’s true. Our inner self screams everything we would never say aloud (unless we’re the blunt friend). In a world where no one is sure of themselves, this novel could make women feel just that little bit more accessible to one another. And that, is golden. AND AH – ANYA ULINICH HAS A TUMBLR. GO HERE NOW.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tressa

    Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is an (I suppose but hope not all of it for her sake) autobiographical story about a Russian Jew's experience in online (and offline) dating that is somewhat cringeworthy in some instances. But it's also funny and I think most women will be reminded and embarrassed about some of their dates/obsessive crushes. Lena grew up in Russia but emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a pudgy teen. She left behind a Russian boyfriend whom she still keeps in touch wit Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is an (I suppose but hope not all of it for her sake) autobiographical story about a Russian Jew's experience in online (and offline) dating that is somewhat cringeworthy in some instances. But it's also funny and I think most women will be reminded and embarrassed about some of their dates/obsessive crushes. Lena grew up in Russia but emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a pudgy teen. She left behind a Russian boyfriend whom she still keeps in touch with, and she is now divorced with two tween daughters. She teaches writing while raising her daughters in NYC, and thinks she'll give online dating a try. The online dating episodes are hilarious, but then she meets a mysterious man on a bus who sticks a dagger through her heart: a frugal, philosophical man/child nicknamed "the Orphan" whose dating past is strewn with the breakups of women he can only manage to date for four months. We see the heartbreak coming, but Lena, who should also see it, is so caught up in the Orphan's non-conformist's world, she doesn't know what's about to hit her. What I enjoyed most about LFMB is the self-deprecating humor of Anya Ulinich. It's laugh-out-loud funny in moments when she's doubting herself and when she has to parent her two girls.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Well, that was a disappointment. Given my similar background with the protagonist, I fully expected to like it. The opening line, "My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department," was provocative enough, and made me smile, but, alas, after several pages my interest started to wane and reached its nadir by the page 20. I did press on and I did finish but it was more of a testament to my will power than author's skills. The art in the book neither supports the story line n Well, that was a disappointment. Given my similar background with the protagonist, I fully expected to like it. The opening line, "My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department," was provocative enough, and made me smile, but, alas, after several pages my interest started to wane and reached its nadir by the page 20. I did press on and I did finish but it was more of a testament to my will power than author's skills. The art in the book neither supports the story line nor appeals to my eye; positioning of the text bubbles obstructs the flow of the reading, the main character seems to be stuck in perpetual teenagehood, and finally the principal theme (dating woes) didn't strike a chord with me. There were memorable moments there - a crash "course" in the history of the USSR in the nineties, re-reading "Darling" by Chekhov and seeing it differently - but to find those fragments took so much determination, I was exhausted upon turning the last page.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    This was a complete failure of the Bechdel test (if there were such a test of-the-page). In all honesty I wasn't even thinking about such a thing until I began growing so impatient with this protagonist that it occurred to me that all her concerns and conversations revolve around -- , ruminate upon --, hearken back to --, and agonize about -- ... you know what (men). Not only that, but there are often too many words per page and one could not establish a reading flow: almost entire recto/verso p This was a complete failure of the Bechdel test (if there were such a test of-the-page). In all honesty I wasn't even thinking about such a thing until I began growing so impatient with this protagonist that it occurred to me that all her concerns and conversations revolve around -- , ruminate upon --, hearken back to --, and agonize about -- ... you know what (men). Not only that, but there are often too many words per page and one could not establish a reading flow: almost entire recto/verso pairs of printed narrative intermixed with pages of drawings (and isn't that a cop-out if this is supposed to be a graphic novel?) So I decided this failed another Bechdel test - that of the inevitable comparisons of skillfulness at composing a graphic novel or memoir.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marcy Dermansky

    This is such a brave honest and funny book. My own story is not Lena Finkle's -- or Anya Ulinich's -- but as a writer, recently divorced, mother of a small child, there was so much I could relate to. I also loved the illustrations. I am full of admiration for this book. And how different an experience it must have been for Ulinich to write it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    The Jewish Book Council

    Review by Tahneer Oksman for the Jewish Book Council. Review by Tahneer Oksman for the Jewish Book Council.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie (aka WW)

    This book has one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen. If it wasn’t for a recommendation by a GR friend, I would never have picked it up. But I did, and I’m glad I did. Anya Ulinich has a distinct drawing style. It approaches Emil Ferris’ at times (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters), but nobody is as good as Emil Ferris. The story follows Russian-born, thirty-something Lena Finkle’s reentrance into the dating scene after splitting up with her husband of 13 years. Lena tries online dating services and This book has one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen. If it wasn’t for a recommendation by a GR friend, I would never have picked it up. But I did, and I’m glad I did. Anya Ulinich has a distinct drawing style. It approaches Emil Ferris’ at times (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters), but nobody is as good as Emil Ferris. The story follows Russian-born, thirty-something Lena Finkle’s reentrance into the dating scene after splitting up with her husband of 13 years. Lena tries online dating services and dating guys she meets around NYC with humorous results. If the book were just about these experiences, I would rate it higher, but there is too much other junk mixed in. Lots of pining for a Russian man back in Moscow, for example, and lots and lots of text-dense philosophizing. Pages and pages chock full of words. Sometimes less can be more, Anya.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Wendi

    My first inclination is to write that this graphic novel is a fantastic representation of the immigrant experience but, although I've never actually said or written that phrase immigrant experience, it immediately feels to me like a cliché and too much like slapping a label on the novel. It is about being an immigrant to the United States, but it's also about sex and love and friendship and illusions and reality and being a single mother while dealing with all of these things. Penguin gave me the My first inclination is to write that this graphic novel is a fantastic representation of the immigrant experience but, although I've never actually said or written that phrase immigrant experience, it immediately feels to me like a cliché and too much like slapping a label on the novel. It is about being an immigrant to the United States, but it's also about sex and love and friendship and illusions and reality and being a single mother while dealing with all of these things. Penguin gave me the opportunity to read Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel, and it's a graphic novel that reminds me of why I love these books (and also why some of them I pick up just don't match up with my graphic novel preferences). As best I can tell, Lena Finkle is, in fact, a novel, not a memoir, but given the character's background and physical appearance in comparison with the author's appearance and background, I wondered throughout the narrative how much of the story is fiction and how much of it may be memoir. I typically prefer these graphic memoirs over the strictly fiction novels. It is, with certainty, though, presented as a fictional novel. Lena is an immigrant from Russia, twice married and divorced with two daughters. She's still in love with her high school boyfriend back in Russia, and a longtime friend advises her she's had too few lovers and needs to get out in the world to better understand men and dating. She dives into online dating but the man she falls in love with (The Orphan) is one she meets on a train. He's reading a short story by Bernard Malamud about a man, Leo Finkle, who hires a marriage broker to find him a wife. The broker claims to have an "entire barrel" of eligible potential brides. This is where the title of the graphic novel comes from: the men Lena dates comprise her own magic barrel. (view spoiler)[ As a reader, I really couldn't see what Lena saw in The Orphan, but isn't this often how it works? We love our girlfriends, think we understand them, and are baffled at the men they choose. However, this lack of insight didn't stop me from empathizing with her when her heart is broken. Her obsession with what happened is represented graphically with an injured duckling, a wounded and confused creature who can't stay away from the object of her affections, even as she sees he's just hurting her more, even as she sees it's hopeless. There's a scene of a conversation between Lena and The Orphan in which The Orphan tells her a story from his childhood. While reading the novel, I immediately withdrew from this scene, as I - and likely anyone who reads it will do the same - instantly recognized the story as taken from an old (real-life) movie. At the time, I thought that maybe Ulinich just used this scene from the movie believing readers wouldn't recognize it as such, but I've since re-evaluated its purpose. Lena herself never recognizes this story for what it is, but because the reader does, we can how The Orphan uses her, how he recognized her naiveté as an immigrant who may not have seen such a well known American movie as a way to manipulate her emotions. I wish I'd realized this while actually reading the book, as it likely would've colored everything I read thereafter. (hide spoiler)] Artistically, my favourite thing about the images in Lena is how Ulinich represents the protagonist's past with rawer, cruder sketches, while the contemporary story is presented with more elegant drawings. So even when there's a flashback within the same page, the reader can easily distinguish the time period. I enjoyed this graphic novel so much; I'm disappointed to see that Ulinich's first novel was not a graphic one. But the story itself was strong enough to consider her debut, and I'll certainly look forward to her next illustrated novel (or memoir!)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wayne McCoy

    'Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel' by Anya Ulinich belongs alongside all the other realist graphic novels like those by Lynda Barry, Harvey Pekar and Marjane Satrapi. I found it a good read. The story follows Lena Finkle, who emigrated from Russia as a child. As a divorced mother of two, she is trying to get back into dating again. She is also coming to terms with her old country and the man she left behind. Online dating encounters are described in broad terms with characters like the Orphan, Disaster 'Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel' by Anya Ulinich belongs alongside all the other realist graphic novels like those by Lynda Barry, Harvey Pekar and Marjane Satrapi. I found it a good read. The story follows Lena Finkle, who emigrated from Russia as a child. As a divorced mother of two, she is trying to get back into dating again. She is also coming to terms with her old country and the man she left behind. Online dating encounters are described in broad terms with characters like the Orphan, Disaster Man and the Vampire of Bensonhurst. She spends a lot of time talking it out with friends and herself. Her conscience shows up as a small version of herself, scolding her for saying and doing things. Her conversations with her mother are painfully funny. Will she find a way to happiness or be miserable forever? The story could have felt really whiny, but the self-deprecating humor was touching and kept the story moving along. It's a long graphic novel and the dialogue takes up much of each panel. There are a lot of story elements that might have been too confusing, but Ulinich deftly keeps everything balanced. It's funny and intelligent and kept me turning pages. I was given a review copy of this graphic novel by Penguin Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for allowing me to review this fine graphic novel.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Blue

    Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is a story of immigration, the perpetual arriving; a story of online dating and serial marriages, the nostalgic first love that never was or could be; a story of dating a man who loves women, but cannot stay; and a story of one woman insisting on searching for happiness. All in all, a great tale, true to the immigrant experience, even down to the generalized anxiety disorder. There is a lot in this novel, which is packed with everything from coming-of-age, learning to Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is a story of immigration, the perpetual arriving; a story of online dating and serial marriages, the nostalgic first love that never was or could be; a story of dating a man who loves women, but cannot stay; and a story of one woman insisting on searching for happiness. All in all, a great tale, true to the immigrant experience, even down to the generalized anxiety disorder. There is a lot in this novel, which is packed with everything from coming-of-age, learning to pretend to be Jewish, finding love, hating love, many phone and face-to-face conversations with "girl friends" about men... The graphic structure mostly carries the story well, except for the long monologs (either in conversation or in thought), which perhaps could be better if divided up in more panels, instead of covering whole pages. It is challenging to get a lot of conversation through in graphic novel format, but it is doable, especially when the images don't have to be exactly about what the words are saying or what the characters are doing (sitting and talking), but something more, something that adds to the words instead of just representing them. Recommended for those who are dating online, those going through a divorce, those who never understood why that good guy broke up with them, and those who like construction sites.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    I wasn't sure what to think of this one at first with the mix between cartoony and more realistic art throughout its' pages. But I quickly saw that it was a great way to differentiate between the present action and the protagonist's thoughts and grew to love it. This is a great American tale. A tale of a young immigrant who after years of 'coming to America' realizes she's been part of it all along and could never go back to the past. I found it a perfect little time capsule of our times, with her I wasn't sure what to think of this one at first with the mix between cartoony and more realistic art throughout its' pages. But I quickly saw that it was a great way to differentiate between the present action and the protagonist's thoughts and grew to love it. This is a great American tale. A tale of a young immigrant who after years of 'coming to America' realizes she's been part of it all along and could never go back to the past. I found it a perfect little time capsule of our times, with her prescient stories of online dating - the vampire of Bensonhurst ;D - what it means to be an American right now, the way that technology has enabled relationships to go on sometimes past their due date, etc, etc. Just a perfect little slice. If you're a single woman, or divorced, or widowed, or married, read it. If you're a man, read it. Everyone should just read it :o)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    I picked up this book knowing nothing about it, just wanted a graphic novel to read on the plane and it hooked me with its story of a woman dating again after divorce (which is exactly what I'm doing right now). I kept forgetting this was a novel. It felt so real, so fully-conceived, that I would have to see the author's name before I remembered that Lena was not real. Lena's story is completely different from mine, but that had a lot to do with why I liked it. An immigrant as a child who marrie I picked up this book knowing nothing about it, just wanted a graphic novel to read on the plane and it hooked me with its story of a woman dating again after divorce (which is exactly what I'm doing right now). I kept forgetting this was a novel. It felt so real, so fully-conceived, that I would have to see the author's name before I remembered that Lena was not real. Lena's story is completely different from mine, but that had a lot to do with why I liked it. An immigrant as a child who married young, she knows virtually nothing of love and sex, so we get to see her learn about these things as an adult. This is a graphic novel that knows how to use the form, but it isn't one that's beautiful. But the style suits the material and I was totally rapt.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    The cover and the title are a mismatch with the content of this fictionalized graphic novel memoir. I would describe it as a dating/OkCupid story, with the protagonist Lena being a Russian immigrant living in New York City, who's been in the US for over two decades and has two children. While it opens with a trip back to Russia, the bulk of the novel is about Lena experimenting with online dating and a relationship with a man she calls the Orphan. I loved the artwork, and the way the author woul The cover and the title are a mismatch with the content of this fictionalized graphic novel memoir. I would describe it as a dating/OkCupid story, with the protagonist Lena being a Russian immigrant living in New York City, who's been in the US for over two decades and has two children. While it opens with a trip back to Russia, the bulk of the novel is about Lena experimenting with online dating and a relationship with a man she calls the Orphan. I loved the artwork, and the way the author would draw a small little figure of Lena on the bigger Lena's shoulder as a sort of truthful little conscience. Flashbacks to childhood are integrated well into the current-day storyline.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    This was perfect. As another reviewer says, Anya Ulinich is so good at blending humor and seriousness, and I don't know why she isn't better known. She's only written one other novel besides this, but both are doozies. Her previous novel followed the mis-adventures of a young girl growing up in Russia and coming to America as a mail-order bride. In Magic Barrel the Russian emigre is settled in Brooklyn, has older hipster friends and is dating as a single mother following a bad divorce. And this This was perfect. As another reviewer says, Anya Ulinich is so good at blending humor and seriousness, and I don't know why she isn't better known. She's only written one other novel besides this, but both are doozies. Her previous novel followed the mis-adventures of a young girl growing up in Russia and coming to America as a mail-order bride. In Magic Barrel the Russian emigre is settled in Brooklyn, has older hipster friends and is dating as a single mother following a bad divorce. And this one has artwork! And it's all great.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Given the 5 months I've had this in my possession from the NYPL, it's clear it took me some time to get into Lena's tale. But once it hooked me, it hooked me good - and I inhaled the rest of the book in mere hours. I certainly didn't *want* to relate to Lena's woes in the world of Manhattan's fickle online dating scene- but boy did I. Painfully so - but also satisfyingly so. The stories recounted were so real and vivid that I found myself shocked at the end that the tale wasn't actually a graphi Given the 5 months I've had this in my possession from the NYPL, it's clear it took me some time to get into Lena's tale. But once it hooked me, it hooked me good - and I inhaled the rest of the book in mere hours. I certainly didn't *want* to relate to Lena's woes in the world of Manhattan's fickle online dating scene- but boy did I. Painfully so - but also satisfyingly so. The stories recounted were so real and vivid that I found myself shocked at the end that the tale wasn't actually a graphic memoir a la Fun Home...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anton

    Despite the mediocre artwork for most of the book, and the disjointed beginning, this tale gathers power and builds to a brilliant and beautiful epiphany of an ending, which I think is unusual these days. Also there is a great passage of innovative artwork around the climax. So despite my initial skepticism, I was completely won over by the end of the book. I laughed, I cried (almost), I read the whole thing in one sitting. Really liked it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl

    Told in the first person, the protagonist, Lena Finkle, is a 30-something divorcee with 2 daughters. She is trying to get back into dating and relates her adventures with online dating and random meetings. She goes back and forth to the past, trying to figure out how her Russian upbringing has affected her adult life. Beautifully drawn, the narrative and graphics really drew (pun intented) me in.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Garden

    2015: Guys I'm sorry but this book is perfect. 2017: This time around I was better able to perceive some of the critiques about layout and overtextiness but I still don't agree that those are meaningful critiques, and continue to receive this as a a perfect, incredible book and I want her to make another.

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