Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What We Are Reading Now

The MJH Book Club met yesterday, and while attendance was sparse, those who were present had a vocal discussion of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander. There was a decidedly mixed reaction from the group, although there was consensus that the characters and dialogue that Englander creates are interesting and well-crafted. For some, though, there was no love for the arc of the stories. We all found “Camp Sundown,” about an elder hostel group recognizing a fellow camper as someone from their past, to be humorous and believable, given the people we know, and the final story, “Free Fruit for Young Widows,” was as powerful and poignant as a short story can be.

The placement of the final stories led to an interesting discussion. One of our members said she did not identify with the first two stories, but loved the last two, which seemed to leave indelible marks on all of us. Had the editor organized the book differently, would she have liked it more? Another colleague, who did not join the discussion, e-mailed her comment: "It is like O'Henry for Jews- oy Henry. Do Jews need more depressing stories and irony?"
Betsy and I say yes. She declared it the best book she has read all year (and let me tell you, Betsy reads A LOT of books), and I was distraught when I turned the last page and there was nothing more to read. He uses an economy of words to create beautifully and fully formed stories that transport you from a hillside in Israel to a summer camp for seniors. Betsy and I do not speak for the whole Book Club, but if the Pulitzer Prize Fiction Committee does not choose Nathan Englander as the recipient next year, they are meshuge*

*Yiddish translation for crazy.

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