An Elegant 10/10

May 29, 2003 |

The Middle of the Night: Stories
By Daniel Stolar
Picador. 244 pages. $23.

When Olympic judges score divers and figure skaters, they award points based on the level of difficulty of the routine. I propose that the same concept be applied to our judging of fiction, with a reverse twist: Whereas in athletics high levels of difficulty are associated with flashy eye-catching spins and leaps, in fiction it is the sedate writers who deserve bonus points.

If you’re willing to accept this judging system, allow me to introduce you to a writer who scores an elegant 10 out of 10. Daniel Stolar’s stories, collected in The Middle of the Night, are not at all flashy, but in their quiet understanding of human relations they achieve admirable emotional effects. (more…)

The Search for a Great Latin-American Jewish Author

May 26, 2003 |

Question: Is there such thing as a Great Latin-American Jewish Author (GLAJA)?

To qualify, the author we’re seeking must be: (a) known for fiction (b) identifiably Latin-American both in real life and in fiction (c) explicitly Jewish in fictional focus though not necessarily in personal practice and (d) able to blow our minds with unique, masterful writing. Plus one more requirement, for the sake of this admittedly arbitrary exercise: At least a couple of the author’s major works must be available in English—otherwise I wouldn’t be able to read them. (more…)

Writing What She Doesn’t Know

May 26, 2003 |

The Autograph Man
By Zadie Smith

Random House. 368 pages. $24.95.

En route to a wrestling match, a Chinese Englishman asks his Jewish son to explain, once again, about “the boxes.” “Tefillin,” the exasperated 12-year-old Alex-Li Tandem replies, “You just strap them. On your head, you know. And a bit on your arms.” Readers of Zadie Smith’s critically acclaimed debut novel, White Teeth, should be familiar with this sort of cross-generational, cross-cultural exchange. With that book, Smith showed that she could write about anyone, anywhere, no matter how far removed from her personal experience—whether they are Jamaican Jehovah’s Witnesses, British Protestants, Bengali Islamists, or Jews. (more…)

Divine Inspiration

May 20, 2003 |

The Dialogues of Time and Entropy
By Aryeh Lev Stollman
Riverhead. 240 pages. $24.94.

What would it be like to have the inspiration of a genius? Only a handful of humans will ever know firsthand. But the rest of us can contemplate the hints of modern genius strewn throughout The Dialogues of Time and Entropy, Aryeh Lev Stollman’s first collection of short fiction. (more…)

Enough To Make Bugsy Siegel Blush

May 19, 2003 |

The Hebrew Hammer isn’t the only Jew in a frock coat and a black hat meting out justice this winter. In fact, next to the Weiss brothers, lieutenants in San Francisco’s turn-of-the-century Jewish mob, the Hammer looks like a bit of a nebbish.

The brothers are the heroes of “Market Street,” the first story arc in “Caper,” a new monthly series published by DC Comics. “Market Street” will wrap up in the February and March issues of “Caper” and will be followed by two more four-issue arcs, written by Judd Winick and drawn by different artists. Varied in tone and setting, the tales are loosely linked through family connections between characters, and revolve around double-crosses, heists and various criminal misadventures. (more…)

Cantankerous Old Man Discovers Soft Spot

May 14, 2003 |

Fabulous Small Jews: Stories
By Joseph Epstein

352 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $23.

Jews have an age-old answer to snobbery. It’s called chutzpah. If some pretentious jerk looks down his nose at you because of the “-berg” at the end of your name or the Honda at the end of your driveway, Jewish wisdom teaches that you just give him the old stink-eye and tell him where he can shove his judgments. Mordecai Richler knew this, Alan Dershowitz knows it, and apparently Joseph Epstein knows it, too. (more…)

Living on the Edge

May 10, 2003 |

Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge
Edited by Paul Zakrzewski.

Perennial.
550 pages. $14.95.

Paul Zakrzewski’s new collection of contemporary Jewish-American fiction, Lost Tribe, is that rare anthology that adds up to more than the sum of its parts and is, in fact, worth talking about. While the stories vary in literary quality and entertainment value, the book offers a revealing cross-section of the youngest generation of American Jewish authors, and, through them, of the youngest generation of American Jewish adults.

To be clear, this is a valuable book of uneven stories about massively screwed up Jews. (more…)