[Professor and literary critic Josh Lambert serves as a judge for two major prizes for American Jewish literature, meaning he reads as many new American novels by and about Jews as possible each year. In this annual column for Jewish Currents, he reflects on some of the previous year’s most compelling works of fiction that might be considered “Jewish” in one way or another, and what patterns emerged in this reading.]
AS IS OFTEN THE CASE, the new fiction I read over the past year seemed like a slow-motion echo of the news from half a decade ago: not ripped from the headlines, exactly, but carefully cut out, collaged in a scrapbook, meditated upon, and transformed. A number of novels and short story collections released in 2021 deal with gender and sexuality in ways that feel decidedly post-2016. Not coincidentally, this was a year in which scholars began dropping #MeToo into titles and subtitles, and a young philosopher’s exploration of “feminism in the 21st century” was a bestseller. (more…)
Filmmakers had been adapting Philip Roth’s work long before Isabel Coixet transformed The Dying Animal into Elegy. When Roth was just twenty-two, his story “The Contest for Aaron Gold,” published first in the Fall 1955 issue of Epoch and then in that year’s Best American Short Stories, was presented on television by Alfred Hitchcock. Roth has disallowed the story’s republication in the half-century since, and the filmed version can be viewed only at UCLA’s archives (or, for the less scrupulous, in a bootleg version), so very few of even Roth’s most committed fans have read or seen it. Roth’s only other short story to be filmed, “Expect the Vandals,” is equally obscure; but at least its bizarre movie version can be added to your Netflix queue. (more…)
The Girl on the Fridge
By Etgar Keret
Translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston
173 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Think of it this way: if you pay the cover price for Etgar Keret’s newly translated collection of stories, The Girl on the Fridge, you’ll be shelling out approximately 25 cents for each of the 46 fictions included. Some of them aren’t much longer than a paragraph, true, and some you’ll forget by the time you turn a page, but what do you expect for a lousy quarter, especially in this rotten economy? If even a handful of the stories haunt you, shake you, throw you for a loop—and they will—you’ll feel like you’ve won the literary lottery. (more…)
The Collected Stories
By Leonard Michaels
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 403 pages. $26.
Unlike other masters of the short story—say, Bernard Malamud, in whose Complete Stories we witness the author’s approach shifting regularly and unpredictably, or Grace Paley, whose Collected Stories manifests relatively stable interests and methods—Leonard Michaels transformed his style dramatically, if gradually, during his career. Reading him chronologically in the new Collected Stories, beginning with the work he composed in the early ‘60s and continuing through the final publications before his death in 2003, the evolution of Michaels’ oeuvre stares you smack in the face. (more…)