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…)
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…)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
By Gabriel Brownstein
W. W. Norton. 192 pages. $23.95.
The rules of plagiarism can be confusing. It’s not okay for you to “borrow” your roommate’s term paper, and historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose were recently busted for improperly attributing sources. On the other hand, in his debut collection of short stories, Gabriel Brownstein rips off characters, dialogue, and plot points from Hawthorne and Kafka and nobody seems to mind. What gives?
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
By Gary Shteyngart
Riverhead. 452 pages. $24.95.
If you came of age in Jewish schools, summer camps, and community centers in the 1990s, as I did, you probably knew more than one kid like Vladimir Girshkin. Think back: remember that ultra-pale, surprisingly hairy 14-year-old whose wardrobe came straight off the sale racks at Kmart in various shades of vinyl? He spoke with an indeterminate accent, was unfamiliar with the touchstones of our culture (cartoons, baseball cards, sugary breakfast cereals), and he wasn’t the guy you wanted to be paired with in lab or gym. Of course, there were plenty of Russians at my day school who adapted perfectly to life in North America, fitting right in with the rest of us—braces, top forty radio, and all—but the one or two oddballs are the ones we remember.
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In Gary Shteyngart’s widely praised debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, we discover the fate of such an oddball when he is released into the wider world. (more…)