Picks and Pans Review: My Life at First Try

updated 12/08/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mark Budman

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A mordant dreamer, the protagonist of this first novel is deliciously at odds with his comrades in Russia; in college, the son of Jewish refugees disses a Chechen brute and barely escapes a mugging. Budman's episodic story (inspired by his life as an expatriate) is funniest when he's dissecting Russian culture; after his protagonist resettles in the U.S., he loses much of his edge. Still, this soulful tale about a perpetual outsider marks a debut well worth celebrating.

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