At last, How I Married Karen, the story of my perfect imperfection, has been published as an ebook.
I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with Karen when we were fourth-grade classmates in the Yeshivah of Flatbush. In this true life story, an unorthodox Orthodox memoir, I detail an all-consuming love that struck at age nine and never forsook me. In a style that recalls screwball comedies of the 1930’s and in chapters inspired by classic movies, I vividly relive — with Karen providing wise and witty commentary — an unlikely romance that is touching, hilarious and ultimately inspirational.
A perfect gift for Chanukah, Christmas, or or any old occasion, How I Married Karen is available at the Apple iBookstore here. The book, with over thirty classic movie stills, is a fantastic reading experience on the iPad.
If you have a Nook eReader, you can purchase the book at Barnes & Noble here.
Adobe Digital Edition’s version is available for Windows, Android, and Kindle users through the Lulu store.
My book will be available from Amazon any day now.
Here’s what people are saying about How I Married Karen. (A sample chapter follows the reviews.)
I’m a little at a loss as to how to review “How I Married Karen,” because I’m afraid that giving it the extremely high praise it deserves will sound fatuous. Surely a book can’t be this good? Well, yes it can. Within 164 light, bubbly, moving, funny pages, Robert J. Avrech packs in so much: the abiding wonder of finding one’s true love; the academic woes of a square peg in school’s relentlessly round holes; life as an Orthodox Jew in New York in the 1960s and 1970s; the way in which movies provide so much of a backdrop to and reference point for our lives; adolescent angst; morality; and patriotism. That Mr. Avrech manages so gracefully to crowd so many ideas into one small book is a testament to both his skill as a writer and to his transcendent love for his wife, Karen Avrech. After I gobbled up the book, I felt lighter and happier for the rest of the day.
Many people go to the movies in search of romance their lives don’t have. Robert looks at classic movies and sees the reflection of the lifelong love story he’s played opposite his wife, Karen. This is a touching, often very funny tale, set against a bygone world in New York and full of the warmth and consolations of Jewish faith and family life. Most of all, it’s the account of how a great screenwriter found a partner who matched him in mind and spirit, for life.
I have never read as wondrous, as hilarious, a tale of obsessive love as the story of how Robert married Karen. Together with Robert, we fall madly in love with the mysterious and elusive Karen — who, surprise surprise, turns out to be neither mysterious nor elusive but an insecure teenager like Robert (well, maybe not quite as insecure as Robert). Along with his love for Karen, he reveals his other great loves — for movies, for Judaism, for America. In that less cynical era of Hollywood to which Robert is so devoted, “How I Married Karen” would have been turned into a great romantic musical comedy. This story keeps us sitting in the dark, on the edge of our plush seats, until the final credits. Two thumbs up!!
— Yossi Klein Halevi, best-selling author and journalist
Robert Avrech’s tale of courtship and coming-of-age is not only moving, but inspiring–no less so because the happy ending is already known from the beginning. It’s a window not only onto the intimate world of a unique and life-long love affair, but onto the shifting social mores of late-20th century Modern Orthodoxy, and the importance of mid-20th century Japanese film. Who knew love connected the Talmud to Akira Kurosawa? Like his favorite directors, Robert tells his story from multiple perspectives, using interjections from Karen or switching into and out of screenplay-style daydreams. A sweet love story — a lifetime in the making.
— Joel B. Pollak, Editor-in-Chief, Breitbart.com
Robert J. Avrech has written a love letter to his wife that he is sharing with the world. Funny and insightful, this book traces his journey through the the self-doubt, fear and panic that accompanies first love. Avrech’s recounting of his courtship is filled with anecdotes that are remarkable in their sweetness and honesty, allowing all of us to fall — if just a little bit — for Karen.
What’s more impossible: becoming a successful Hollywood screenwriter, or winning the lifelong love of the smartest, most beautiful girl in your fourth grade class? “How I Married Karen” tells the story of how one shy, underestimated, and under-appreciated boy from Brooklyn attempts to attain BOTH goals over the course of three decades, two high schools, and the most un-romantic venue ever known to Jewish singles: The Upper West Side.
— Jake Novak, Executive Producer, CNBC, The Kudlow Report
Robert and Karen Avrech’s incredible love story is also a heartfelt gift to anyone looking to achieve the impossible dream despite every incredible hurdle from teen angst to professional self-doubt. Oh, and it’s funny too! “How I Married Karen” is the story of how the geeky guy courts and wins the unattainable girl. It sounds like a plot conceived by a Hollywood screenwriter, but if you believe in bashert, the story reflects Divine design. The screenwriter, Robert J. Avrech, lived it, and writes about it delightfully.
—David Gerstman, Soccer Dad, author of the Mideast Media Sampler
And here’s a sample chapter:
The Seven Samurai
The time has come to introduce Karen to Akira Kurosawa. The time has come to introduce Karen to the single most important movie in my life, the film that has shaped my consciousness and turned me from a directionless yeshiva student into a rabid film fanatic and budding screenwriter.
Yes, The Seven Samurai is playing at the Thalia, and I’ve invited Karen to see it with me. Keep in mind: these are ancient days. There are no videos, much less DVDs. To see a classic film, you must rush to Manhattan, to one of the revival houses and hope that the print they have is halfway decent. And with Japanese films, the biggest problem is the subtitles. Frequently, they are illegible.
As we stand on line to purchase tickets, Karen quizzes me about the film.
“What’s it about?”
“The eternal battle of good against evil, impossible love, and courage and loyalty in sixteenth-century Japan.”
“Does it have a… plot?”
“Oh, yes. There are several strong plots running parallel to one another. Don’t worry — it’s a foreign film, but you’ll find that all the emotions are completely familiar.”
Karen looks a bit skeptical.
By now she knows me well enough to know that my take on reality is not quite… ahem… quite real.
“How long is it?”
“We’re incredibly lucky, Karen,” I enthuse. “This doesn’t happen very often, but we’re actually getting to see the original three-hour version! Isn’t that great?”
Karen smiles, but her smile is strained. I’m not worried. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that once the film gets going, she’ll be caught up in the magnificent imagery, the classic narrative, the heroic, tragic characters. Once Karen screens this film, our relationship will be sealed — a final intellectual union.
The house lights dim and chills run up and down my spine as the opening shots of The Seven Samurai thunder across the screen. Karen is at full attention. She sits straight as a pilaster, like a proud Japanese princess.
A half-hour into the film Karen is… oh, my gosh… idly toying with her split ends.
I am incredulous, in shock, in a kind of numbed pain that I never knew existed.
How is this possible?
Slumped in her seat, Karen is bored out of her mind. My heart is actually pattering in my chest at twice its normal rate. I am twenty-five years old and I’m having, I’m pretty sure, a massive heart attack.
A few years ago, I told a friend that I could never love a woman who didn’t love The Seven Samurai.
Not only did I say it, but also I believed it.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” says Karen, “I need to take a break.”
“There’s a break at the hour-and-a-half point,” I lamely point out.
“I need it now,” Karen says quite evenly, with no hint of rancor whatsoever. She exits to the lobby.
I feel like committing hara-kiri.
In the dark, I gaze at my beloved and outnumbered Samurai warriors; even unto death they maintain their code of honor. There is something very Jewish about these men and their stubborn refusal to give up their way of life. This film has changed my life, made of me a screenwriter, a writer with a developing vision.
What to do?
The images no longer cohere, for now I see Karen, nine years old, on the day that she first transferred from Yeshivah Ohel Moshe to the Yeshivah of Flatbush — the day I, also nine years old, fell in love with her. Now I see her leaning against the chain-link fence during recess, pressing her linen handkerchief against unnaturally pale lips; there she is, years later, when we meet in camp and exchange a few awkward sentences; and again I spot her at a high-school basketball game. Karen has no idea how I feel. What am I saying? She has no idea that I even exist. This life of mine is one that can easily slip into utter catastrophe.
Karen’s image splits and flies away. There she is, up on the screen in full close-up. I love her; I have always loved her. And this moment, this film, this decision that I’m about to make will define the balance of my life.
The Samurai speak of Bushido, the soul of the warrior, the perpetual struggle to maintain honor and dignity, the fight to recognize your true inner self. I catch a glimpse of my own Bushido. It’s in danger of being crushed… by yours truly.
I bolt from my seat and follow Karen into the lobby. Sitting on a bench, she looks sad.
“I know how much this movie means to you,” says Karen.
“It doesn’t matter,” I respond.
And it doesn’t.
In a split second, I have gone from being a boy to a man. Morally, I have matured, been forced by this honest and most unpretentious of women to reorder my priorities.
I took another young woman to see The Seven Samurai and she told me that she loved it. Adored it. “It’s fantastic,” she gushed. But in the darkness I felt her boredom, sensed her incredible yearning for the film to end. She was just saying what she knew I wanted to hear.
Karen cannot lie. Karen is constitutionally unable to say that she admires something when she just plain doesn’t like it.
To this day, when I slip the DVD of The Seven Samurai into the player, Karen beats a hasty retreat.
This night, this moment, I make the decision to grow up and be a man. I understand that admiring or despising The Seven Samurai, or any movie, has nothing to do with the guts of a relationship. If you look closely, it’s merely about aesthetics.
What it’s not about is values. Admiring or disliking a movie or a book or a painting or a song or whatever is not a good indicator of the strength of a relationship. Love — real love — and lasting relationships are built on shared values.
Karen knows how important this movie is to me. But because this film is so central to my life, she cannot bring herself to pretend that she likes it. In fact, the way I feel about The Sound of Music (1965) is how she feels about The Seven Samurai.
I bid goodbye to The Seven Samurai. We do not stay for the rest of the film. We leave the theater. Walking along Broadway, Karen searches my face for some expression of what I’m feeling, some hint of what my reaction is to her reaction.
As we walk away from the movie theater, I discover that I feel lighter. I feel unburdened and I find that I am grinning hugely. I smile because at long last I’m able to bid goodbye to my youth. Karen’s perfect scrupulousness, her female/Jewish/Samurai persona has, as I have long suspected, compelled me to become a better man.
Robert skipped ahead in our courtship, telling of his epiphany: that I didn’t have to share his rapture with The Seven Samurai.
There was no litmus test to be passed.
Still, there were future rites of passage that involved questions of artistic taste.
One of these was the flip side, where I became upset at a movie and had to come to the understanding that it was OK for the two of us to have different tastes in art, and that I had to be tolerant and suspend judgment.
The movie in question was one that we never would go to now, and will remain nameless. At the time it was considered a classic, starring Marlon Brando. Those old enough will know the film. Well, I didn’t get it. I was upset. I was crying for most of the film. Not because it moved me, but because I was repulsed by it. So what do I do? I make allowances; I understand that we are different people, with different sensibilities and different set points for art. And we talk about it. The last point is the most important. I explain what I am feeling.
Another example: Before Robert and I were married, we had a debate about modern art. It was one of the few times we actually had a formal debate. It was titled “What Is Art?” We never resolved it.
Of course, I came down on the side of a more conservative, representational art. Robert’s argument favored a conceptual art — for example, a totally white canvas. We never resolved our differences, but we did come to a civilized compromise — I agreed to go to his types of museums and galleries for ten minutes, and ten minutes only.
So I guess the point I’m making is that there is room for differences as long as you can accept those differences, respect each other and work out a way of compromising and living with the differences in a realistic way. No two people agree on everything. If they do — well, that would make for a pretty boring relationship. In fact, if you think about it, that’s what totalitarian governments are all about: getting people to shed their individual identities and agree upon some bland collective identity.
P.S. I spent my time in The Seven Samurai trying to figure out who played whom in the American adaptation of the film, The Magnificent Seven (1960).