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Steve Stern's new book of short stories, "The Book of Mischief", is filled with Jews who are caught in all sorts of situations. Divided into four sections - Memphis' "Pinch" area, New York's lower East Side, Europe, and The Catskills - Stern's stories bring the reader an immediate connection with the "place" and "time" of those situations.

Steve Stern's writing has been referred to as "magical realism". In general, most of the stories in "Mischief" do have a surrealistic element. Some don't and those are probably the ones I enjoyed most. (I am an extremely literal reader and don't normally like anything surrealistic. But I loved Stern's stories, so maybe there's hope for me yet.) For anyone having read Stern before, please note that at least two of the stories - the first and the last - have been printed before in "The Wedding Jester". Some of the others may also have been in print before; "Jester" is the only other Stern book I've read.

All the stories are wonderfully and powerfully written. Curiously, the most effective one to me was actually the shortest. Set in the "New York" section, it is a short piece about a seamstress caught in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911. Stern is pitch-perfect as he looks at the last minutes of a doomed young immigrant as her workplace goes up in flames. There's no "magic realism" in the piece; only a mournful look at a trapped life. Stern's stories are usually placed in the past, though there are a few that are in the current day. His look at a Kafka-esque professor in Prague is a snapshot of today's city through the eyes of a teacher, himself caught up in the magic of that beautiful and mysterious city.

Stern writes about Memphis - and the Jewish section, "The Pinch" - with true affection. Most of the stories are set in the 'teen, 1920's and 1930's when the area was the home of Jewish European immigrants who kept to themselves and their problems to their home turf.

All of Stern's stories are good; there's not a clunker in the group. If you like short-stories, you'll love this book. You don't have to be Jewish to read the book; Stern thoughtfully provides a glossary of Yiddish terms in the back of the book. Also, the book's cover is way cool and very evocative of the stories inside.
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on November 2, 2012
I am in awe of Steve Stern's gifts as a writer. His psychological insights coupled with his magical imagination result in stories that lead the reader into fictional heaven. His characters are so delightfully colorful and uniquely curious that the reader will follow them anywhere Stern's mischief will take them.
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on May 13, 2016
Stern is able to pull together the American Jewish culture in the early part of the last century and present it with the light hearted mysticism that makes one long for it today
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on March 11, 2016
The delivery was fast and the book was good as well
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on January 5, 2013
Have read three of the stories so far, and will continue, but I'm disappointed. Maybe I'm spoiled by I.B. Singer's style. Stern's comes across to me as unsubtle, tho his descriptions of characters are interesting.
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on December 4, 2012
OK, that's a rather high standard. But I quickly lost patience with these stories. Stern's magical realism lacks the substance and spirituality needed to draw the reader in to an alternate universe. What we end up with is a lot of Yiddish dialect razzle-dazzle to cover up the general emptiness of his narratives. More to the point, the beauty of the best of classic Yiddish literature is in what it has to say about religious faith, tradition, and the ironies and tragedies of Jewish life and history. Humor, of course, is a mainstay of this literature, along with a real feeling for those whom it describes. In contrast, Stern seems detached from and vaguely contemptuous of the people in his stories, whose antics really have no point that I can see. His characters are caricatures rather than real human beings.

Re-read "Angel Levine" instead.
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on October 25, 2012
The Book of Mischief...is OK, but Sholom Aleichem. Steve Stern will never be. No matter how humorous he is, and how filled with satire his stories are, Tennessee cannot be transformed into Tevie's shtetle nor the lower east side of New York City. Amazon may find some younger readers who enjoy these tales, but this old person wants to go back to Tevie after reading 20% of The Book of Mischief.
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