- Hardcover: 339 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; First Edition edition (May 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0395944023
- ISBN-13: 978-0395944028
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 58 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,472,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fabulous Small Jews Hardcover – May 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Switching gears after his nonfiction hit, Snobbery, Epstein has compiled a collection of short stories as thoughtful and arresting as its title (from a poem by Karl Shapiro). Whether they are in a nursing home, recovering from the loss of a spouse of 50 years, or looking back at marriages, shortcomings or missed opportunities, Epstein's characters are quirky, witty, resentful, fearful and cautiously hopeful as they face their future, or whatever they have left of it, in a world in which all the rules have changed. What distinguishes them as Jews in this universal situation is a certain wry outlook, a vernacular turn of phrase that carries the tang of its Yiddish origin, and a tendency to philosophize about the deeper questions of existence. "Coming In with Their Hands Up" is a touching tale of a bloodthirsty divorce lawyer who encounters heartbreak in his own marriage. In "Postcards," Seymour Hefferman, an acidulous and malicious failed poet, anonymously castigates cultural eminences when they offend his sensibilities, signing a Jewish name instead of his own; he finally gets his comeuppance. The eponymous Felix Emeritus, a cautious Buchenwald survivor who has never asked much of life, meets in an old-age home a bitter man who can't surmount his dark view of human nature. Mostly settled in Chicago, these 17 characters are no heroes, only reflective personalities-little people with big opinions-who have made their share of sacrifices. Like his emotionally candid, low-key protagonists, Epstein is intrinsically honest. Gratifying and genuine, this collection examines all sorts of responses to the encroachment of old age on human dignity.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Whether he's writing piquant criticism such as Snobbery: The American Version [BKL Jl 02] or fiction, Epstein brings zest and clarity to his ardent inquiry into how we attempt to make sense of life and peace with death. His fictional turf is Jewish Chicago, a vibrant domain in dramatic transition in this robust and involving short story collection. Epstein's narrators tend to be tough, hardworking, and solitary men who have survived poverty, the Holocaust, ruthless competition, and impossible domestic situations only to confront old age and a jittery new world that to their pragmatic eyes seems neurotic, flimsy, indulgent, and vacuous. Yet Epstein's heroes--guys like salesman Moe Bernstein, dry-cleaner mogul Artie Glick, a bartender, a scamming ex-con, and a few soulful academics--do not despair. They maintain their sense of humor, they take chances, they open their hearts, and they find life sweeter than ever before. As rich in clever banter as in philosophic musings, Epstein's funny and wise stories celebrate independence, the inner life, generosity of spirit, and rolling with the punches. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I have had the highest regard for Joseph Epstein for years as a conservative commentator and an essayist, especially for his essays on literary matters, the English language, and biography. In one of his books, Essays in Biography, he describes his experience with an elderly blind man, Matthew Shanahan, who became a companion for whom Mr. Epstein developed a great affection. I was much taken with the story, particularly inasmuch as it closely paralleled my own experience with an elderly, disabled friend.
The title, Fabulous Small Jews, somehow misled me into thinking that this might be a book of similar stories. I read the first one or two stories before I realized that this was fiction, not biography, and that these were, of all things, short stories. Regardless of what genre they might be, I was hooked. I had not realized until then that Mr. Epstein wrote fiction, or what an enormously talented story-teller he is. The characters are alive and vivid. Each of these stories is so rich that I found myself not wanting to simply read the book through, but wanting to pause and let what I had read digest. I hated to come to the end of the book. I hastened to order The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and The Goldin Boys, Mr. Epstein’s other collections of short stories, and my reaction was the same. I was sorry for each of them to end. I will certainly re-read each of them, very likely more than once.
All of these stories are about Chicago Jews, but somehow, through his piercing insights into human nature and the magic of great story-telling, Mr. Epstein makes the characters in his stories resonate with astonishing vividness to me, a small-town Protestant Southerner.
"Fabulous Small Jews" shares these qualities with another book of stories about ordinary people living in and on the edges of a large city, Los Angeles, known more usually for its media stars, Ry Cooder's "Los Angeles Stories." Both books evoke mid-20th century times in the lives of these cities, a time before celebrities had stolen all the oxygen from our consciousness of them. While not nostalgic, both writers clearly love the times and the personalities, the quirks that give a writer wonderful material with which to work.