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The Book of Life Paperback – September 1, 2011
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"Stuart Nadler addresses tradition, but he captures the right-now as well as anybody. He's heart-breaking, yet he's funny. He writes beautifully, tersely, masterfully."―Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng and Half a Life
"A writer of keen perception and sensibility, Nadler describes the difficult thresholds that separate absence and presence, arrivals and departures, the sacred and profane, bright memory and dark nostalgia. His writing reminds me why I love to read."―Gina Ochsner, author of The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight
"Stuart Nadler is an artist of secrets. Line after line of clear, revealing prose turn out to be incendiary. These are stories that expand without warning. A striking, rousing collection of people waking up fast. Nothing in The Book of Life is without consequence."―Rosecrans Baldwin, author of You Lost Me There
"In The Book of Life, Stuart Nadler offers a fresh, funny, perceptive take on the current state of the Jewish family, including the families we make with our friends and lovers. Like Bernard Malamud, Nadler has a gift for comic/ironic dialogue and for setting thoroughly modern characters on a collision course with the distant past. A truly talented writer."―Sharon Pomerantz, author of Rich Boy
Stuart Nadler treats his characters like people. The Book of Life is a fitting title for this collection-that's what it's about: life. Here's a Chekovian fascination with the human condition-the pleasures and tortures of family, love, sex, money, work, religion. These are stories about fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, lovers-people with complex lives, troubled souls, deep hearts and messy desires. Nadler is a writer, who, like Alice Munro, John Cheever or Bernard Malamud, does not write about "ordinary people" because he knows there's no such thing as an ordinary person. Each of these carefully wrought stories is as moving and masterful as a Chopin sonata; the notes and the silences between them will resonate with the reader for a very long time after they're done.―Benjamin Hale, author of The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore
"Stuart Nadler has written seven of the most gorgeous, poignant, intricately crafted, and compulsively readable stories I have read in a long time. His flawed protagonists tend to be forever on the brink of heartbreak, yet the unlikely effect of Nadler's fiction is that life is continually reaffirmed."―Frederick Reiken, author of Day for Night
About the Author
Stuart Nadler is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship. Recently, he was the Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic.
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Nadler, like Joseph Epstein, writes generally about Jewish men. Many of Nadler's are from a younger generation than Epstein, but he has found the right words to build pictures of these men who are on the threshold of life. Just beginning jobs and love lives, these young men do and say things that will sometimes come back to haunt them later, but for now, they're trying to live in the here-and-now. An exception to this is the middle age man in the story, "The Moon Landing", who returns from Los Angeles to Boston after the death of his parents. He hasn't been in Boston in years - having exiled himself to LA - and now finds it difficult to clear out his parents' house with his younger brother, who had stayed in Boston and built a life there. What he remembers of his parents and brother is sadly reflected in the detritus of his parents' belongings. It's a spare and sad story, but compellingly interesting at the same time. Other stories by Nadler are about generation gaps between fathers and sons. All are brilliant.
I can't recommend Nadler's "The Book of Life" strongly enough. The reader doesn't have to be Jewish to appreciate the stories; men are the same the world over. As are their loves and thoughts and dreams.
The 7 stories, most of which are set in New York or Massachusetts, are:
1. In the Book of Life - 22 pp -- A great story right out of the chute about a man who begins an affair with the daughter of his boyhood friend and business partner, an entanglement that sets off a host of unexpected discoveries and complications.
2. Winter on the Sawtooth - 18 pp - A father is embarrassed when his son makes his first trip home from college and has to discover the shambles his parents' marriage is in. The husband and wife still share the same house, but the wife has taken on a new lover whom she sleeps with in the house she shares with her husband. But the son's return could change the entire dynamic.
3. The Moon Landing -- 27 pp -- Two estranged brothers have to come together to clear out their parents' house after they both die within one days of each other. Searching through their clothes, they're reminded of how their childhood was shaped by their parents' constant drinking.
4. Catherine and Henry - 28 pp -- A young woman gets convinced by a cynical older fiend to test her boyfriend's faithfulness by hiring a woman to seduce him. The inevitable happens but because they both love each other the "test" presents unexpected turns for both of them.
5. Our Portion, Our Rock - 29 pp -- A young lawyer, who's not happy with his job, has to deal with a dying father who's crippled with Lou Gehrig's disease and his own foolish attempt to consummate his long-time crush on a law school classmate, who went on to marry his best friend.
6. Visiting - 16 pp -- A divorced father tries to make a connection with his 16-year-old son by driving him, on one of the rare weekends he spends with him, from Manhattan to the home of his dying father in Rhode Island. It's a compelling portrait of the "sandwich" generation, estranged from his sarcastic child and his cruel father. But in the end, there's a compelling look at how those generational gaps and estrangements can be bridged, if only in a minor way.
7. Beyond Any Blessing - 34 pp -- A grandson goes back to Boston to find out why his grandfather, a 90-year-old rabbi, has been fired by his temple board and evicted from his home. The grandson, Daniel, isn't much help in rectifying the situation, but the trip home gives him an opportunity to revisit his past (his grandfather raised him after his parents were killed in a car accident) and an old flame, for whom he still carries a torch for even though he's married to someone else. The grandfather was in his 70s when he had to take over raising this boy, but it's clear that, while their relationship wasn't always easy, there was a strong bond that the grandson is only now beginning to fully understand and appreciate.
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The stories are about infidelity, grief, generation gaps between fathers...Read more