Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg
In this high-speed, crime-ridden, coming-of-age-tale, twelve-year-old Aaron Gimmelman watches his family lose everything, go on the run, and turn into a group of murderous bank-robbers. The real kicker? Aaron is the sensible member of the family, the only realist in the disturbed bunch, and he started his own family down this road of crime.
It begins with the stock crash of ’87. Formerly affluent, high-roller Barry Gimmelman (the father) is suddenly broke. Everything was bought through debt, through promises, through the assurance that the future held success. It’s all going back now. The fancy cars. The house. Even his kid’s toys. Since the windows were sealed shut that fateful day, Barry couldn’t jump to his doom. Instead, he came back home, took his destitute family in an RV trip across country to go back, groveling, to his super Orthodox, disapproving mother-in-law. The Gimmelmans are no longer popular. No longer wanted. Worse yet, some mobsters and high-profile clients want their money back, and they’re willing to follow Barry to the ends of the earth to get it.
It starts as a hopeless plea to family, but when Aaron robs a convenience store to help out the family, Barry gets an idea. What he had, what he thought he deserved, was taken from him. Why not take from others? Thus, the Woodstock gang is born, with every member of the family, down to the nine-year-old kid, wearing the mask of a famous musician while playing a role in increasingly risky, poorly planned bank heists. Along the way, the family grows together, then apart. The parents devolve into cocaine induced hazes and crazy dreams, the children are on their own, and they soon realize that all is not fun and games. People are going to die. Their parents may not love them more than money. When the chips are down, this game is a lonely one, everyman for himself. No one – family, lover, friend, can be trusted.
The Great Gimmelmans, for all its tongue-and-cheek promise of high stakes adventure and people sick of the system, is a thoughtful piece. In between the hair-raising heists (which good Lord, are these people unprepared and downright lucky sometimes – until, of course, they are not) this is really a story about family. It’s about selfishness; about the ruthlessness of self-love; about toxic love and hero worship; about bad parents; about adults who refuse to grow up; about children run amok; about children parenting themselves; about children growing up harder, colder, knowing that there is no parental protection. It’s also a story that weaves in a lot of thoughts about tradition and religion, and about the complexities of forgiveness.
But, in between all those deep thoughts that will keep you up in the early AMs, it’s just a breathless story. Oddly, it’s realistic, the way this all goes down. This family, despite their presumptions, are not Bonnie and Clyde remakes, they are wannabes, and a little accidental success proves dangerous. This is a story of assumptions, of coked-out dreams, of a man who refuses to let go, of unrealistic people with just enough smarts to get themselves into bad situations. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, wondering what these Gimmelmans would do next, how far this charade would go, how many people they were willing to hurt, to leave behind.
The real greatness is in watching Aaron grow up and grow out of his worshipful fascination with his father. He begins the story as a child – suggesting a crime spree, proud when his dad is proud of him, all in on this adventure. But as things start to unravel, as the dream pans out, Aaron grows up where his parents cannot. The child becomes the parent, and the ending gets messy, gets bloody. There are lessons here, sure, and there are unforgettable moments of trauma and true hubris. In the end, it’s an addictive story. We must see the ending; we must watch as it all flames down. We have to wonder, which of these Gimmelman children, if any of them, will survive, rise from the ashes, and move on?
– Frances Carden
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