The Radicalization of Reuben Schwartz
When Reuben, a humorous Jewish lawyer, is coerced by his former gay lover to consult for a black activism movement in the Bronx, he gets pulled out of his straight life in Scarsdale into chaos and violence. He must choose between his family and a volatile opportunity to transform the urban landscape. More
Synopsis: The Radicalization of Reuben Schwartz, by Mark Lawton
Reuben Schwartz, a successful Jewish lawyer, enjoys his comfortable life in the leafy suburb of Scarsdale with his wife, Marcy. He is ‘Father of the Year’ to their two young kids, Josh and Sarah. All is going well, until he receives a call from his former gay lover. Compton is a tall, handsome, and buff African-American intellectual complete with PhD and speeches at the United Nations. He returns to his beaten-down neighborhood in the Bronx where he launches a black social activism movement, combatting police shootings and injustice. Compton coerces Reuben to ‘just help out a bit.’
Marcy knows of Reuben and Compton’s past together and actively opposes Reuben’s desire to be a ‘do-gooder.’ The rehabilitation of the ex-cons in the movement, she believes, is futile. “Besides,” Marcy says. “Those people always say they’re innocent.”
The more Marcy fights Reuben’s confused desire to have an impact, the more entangled he becomes. During school vacations, Reuben brings his kids down to the ghetto to see how the other half lives. Josh and Sarah witness fires burning down the neighborhood and black against white riots.
What Marcy doesn’t know is that Reuben has already reunited with Compton and shares his bed when they are supposedly working into the night to make a difference in the lives of the gangsters. Marcy, left alone with the kids one time too many, files for divorce with full custody while Reuben fights not to lose his status as partner in the law firm.
Compton has his own double life. He must present as ‘one of the boys’ to the gangsters. He speaks slang, wears a hoodie, and lives in a rundown apartment. On weekends he comes out of the closet and uses his tony million-dollar loft to entertain his large network of gay African-American intellectuals.
The organization surges onto the national stage after Compton gets interviewed on the nightly news about a demonstration that turns violent. Cells launch in Baltimore, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, and L.A.
The movement grows fast and spins out of control. Reuben views himself as an intellectual offering ideas, not as the mastermind at the center. The cell in LA openly uses violence and disobeys directives. They splinter off on their own, sending their gangsters into the US Marines. These rogue Marines cause an international incident in Afghanistan and the National Security Agency comes swooping down hard and fast. Reuben is helpless and ineffectual in the face of such overwhelming pressure and imminent demise. Compton tries to transfer all the blame to Reuben and ends up calling in every favor he ever earned with the black and white powerbrokers of New York and DC to keep himself out of prison. The organization disappears within days. Compton copes by finding another lover. Reuben gets dumped and is left alone, distraught, and penniless. He sits in his unfurnished apartment unpacking a few cardboard boxes.
But Reuben won’t give up being an attentive father. He chaperones Josh’s fourth grade trip high above the Hudson River basin. At a rest stop, Josh goes back to the school bus for sunscreen while the other boys keep playing ‘king-of-the-mountain’ on a pile of rocks and concrete. Just before Josh rushes up the mountain again, it crashes down into the ravine. Josh’s friends die in the fall. Reuben loses thirty pounds trying to fight guilt and depression. He ends up in the emergency room with heart palpitations.
Reuben enrolls in an intensive, six-month, grief program run by the Zen Center on the lower West Side of Manhattan. It is there that Reuben finally gains insight into what it means to have an impact and a meaningful life. He graduates from the program with enough strength and perspective to begin anew with his kids and career.
The story is told from Reuben’s POV in the first person. It is his comic internal and external dialogue that maintain levity throughout.
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