An arranged marriage is expected for Raizl, but she's not like the other young women in her Hasidic sect in Brooklyn. Raizl has a college scholarship to study accounting, a part-time job that supports her family, and a hidden computer making it all possible. That's where she finds the porn, through the slippery slope of an innocent Google search. As Raizl dives deeper into the world of porn at night, her daytime life begins to unravel.
Raizl’s ability to exist in dualities, resisting easy answers and easy characterizations, is almost Talmudic in its rigor. In particularly inspired scenes at her college ... This curiosity and eagerness to take in the world around her, while still allowing for the possibility that her ultimate place may very well be within the community she has always known, is what makes Raizl such a compelling narrator. Berliner’s uncompromising choice to fill Shmutz with Yiddish vernacular also plants the reader firmly in Raizl’s perspective. Raizl may not be in control of her pornography habit, or the money she makes at her job in the diamond district, or even — depending on the reader’s perspective, and Berliner’s generous prose allows for as many dualities in the reader as she fosters in her narrator — the way religion influences the way she moves through the world. But she is in control of her narrative ... There are a myriad of possibilities for meaning, so many of them outlined in Berliner’s sharply observant novel. Nevertheless, Raizl is given the option that so many women — Hasidic or otherwise — are often denied: the ability to choose that meaning for herself.
Berliner’s very literal and Yiddish-inflected synopses of porn as perceived by Raizl are hilarious and endearing ... a dirty book with a pure heart, though the story was wrapped up before I was ready to leave Raizl’s wonderfully horny head. Let her laptop burn forever into the night.
... memorable ... Berliner shines in her depictions of a deeply religious life, both in its inequities and its enchantments. If the plot is at times a bit sparse, the prose is inventive, notably in how it uses Raizl’s native Yiddish (and her application of it to porn) to great effect. This brave, eye-opening tale is full of surprises.