If you were an accomplished mafia hit man from Chicago in need of a place to hide, how would you solve the problem? In Tod Goldberg’s novel Gangsterland, Sal Cupertine troubleshoots the issue by becoming a rabbi in Las Vegas. A couple of his partners with a financial interest in continuing to utilize his services arrange for Sal to travel west. They put money down to enlist a doctor to perform facial rearrangement procedures offsite, which leads to discomfort for Sal as he heals in the midst of learning the Talmud. The hit man, of course, is too far gone as a criminal to begin to walk the path of enlightenment, and his associates would be disenchanted if he did. For Sal—who now goes by the name of Rabbi David Cohen—being a spiritual leader is not even partially symbolic: it’s strictly and calculatingly a front. “Religious places freaked Rabbi David Cohen out,” we learn early on in the narrative. It’s the richly absurd prose—in conjunction with a compelling crime story where Sal is on the run from a government agent—that makes Gangsterland a notable new novel, and Goldberg a writer to watch.
Todd Robins recently founded Vautrin: