Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

This collection by Nathan Englander may be enough to get me to regularly read short stories. Almost half of the stories were outstanding, and the rest were at worst very good. I figure a short story deserves a short review of its own, so here goes:

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank": Starts out like the story I expected, in which four Jewish parents meet in a house and talk, but quickly turns funnier, sadder, weirder, and more meaningful than I expected, with a devastating ending. (Would make a good play.)

"Sister Hills": My favorite, jumps through time with the relationship of two women who founded a settlement in Israel, and has incredible resonance and character. I don't know of a better story that simulataneously faces the paradoxical tragedy of these settlements head-on and yet fits it into the long Jewish story. Almost Biblical. This one was so good that I was slightly disappointed with all that followed.

“How We Avenged the Blums”: Sort of run-of-the-mill growing-up-Jewish story, but it gets a lot right that Inglourious Basterds got wrong, and especially, the last line is perfect.

“Peep Show”: Outlandish and dream-like, but I'm left wondering what the point is. The setting is a stroke of brilliance.

“Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side”: This one didn't even make much of an impact on me. Maybe because it didn't translate well to audiobook.

“Camp Sundown”: This is more like it, with a bizarre set of circumstances at camp and guilt underlying the farce. A little too bizarre, actually.

"The Reader": I found this one exciting because part is set in the old Elliot Bay Bookstore, and it uses the setting very well. But otherwise it seems a bit like Englander's version of one of Stephen King's "write about being a writer" stories, and I just don't get that genre.

“Free Fruit for Young Widows”: The third outstanding story (after the first two), again with a strong historical grounding, and the one that is most directly about the Holocaust, after that tragedy is hanging around outside the windows in each of the other stories.

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