Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Francis Bacon all figure prominently in the four novellas that are Alan Isler's The Bacon Fancier. In the title story, an 18th-century Jewish violinmaker fancies both the philosopher and the breakfast meat of that name, his taste for the unkosher spilling over into his private affairs as well. Jews are at the center of all four of Isler's tales; in the first, the author retells Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Here Shylock is neither the venal, bloodthirsty Jew of Shakespeare's play, nor some 20th-century revisionist martyr; rather, he is a crusty, belligerent old man who goes looking for reasons to wrangle with the gentiles and considers his famous court case against the Christian merchant a highpoint for the ghetto. In "The Crossing," a wealthy young Jew meets Oscar Wilde on an ocean liner and finds both are shunned for different reasons. The final tale, "The Affair," takes readers to Broadway, where a young actor finds his research for a book on the infamous Dreyfus affair turned into a lurid musical.
These four intelligent stories filled with sex, theft, betrayal, and memory are concerned with a minority's struggle to retain identity in the face of the majority's disapproval. Filled with multifaceted characters and complex themes, Alan Isler's The Bacon Fancier serves up its provocative fare well-done.
From Library Journal
The four exquisite novellas that make up this collection have a common theme: Jewish experiences in the gentile world as seen in four successive centuries. Mostrino, the village fool in Venice's ancient Jewish ghetto, is protected within the ghetto's boundaries in "The Monster," a golem story of Jewish folklore. His death, narrated by a Shylock figure who also relates the story of his own sad life, is especially poignant. In "The Bacon Fancier," set in an English village, the one-eyed Cardosa, a master violin maker from an observant Jewish family, takes in a waif who becomes his lifelong love but whom he may not marry. "The Crossing" and "The Affair" continue the rich storytelling, blending warmth and melancholy. Isler (The Prince of West End Avenue, LJ 4/1/94) effectively blends comedy and tragedy in these well-honed tales, which are replete with classical allusions. Highly recommended for all collections.?Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
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