- Hardcover: 325 pages
- Publisher: Zoland Books; 1st edition (November 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1581950128
- ISBN-13: 978-1581950120
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,739,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bad Jews and Other Stories Hardcover – November 1, 2000
In Gerald Shapiro's second collection of short fiction, the protagonists aren't bad people, exactly--they're just bad Jews, the kind who haven't darkened a synagogue door in decades, who in childhood endured Hebrew school as if it were one of the 10 biblical plagues. When Kenneth Rosenthal sets out to paint the plagues, in fact, he ends up adding two extra ones: "Call Waiting" and "Lack of Available Parking." Needless to say, the addition enrages the backers of the Kissner Prize for Jewish Art, which Rosenthal wins in spite of his overwhelming obscurity. ("Oregon! What an ironic place to live!" cries one of the judges.) Ad man Leo Spivak, on the other hand, sees himself as merely one more in "a long line of bad Jews, an age-old dynasty of skeptics and know-nothings, eaters of pork chops and treyf..." Nonetheless, in the title story he gives his father what's pitched to him as a "traditional" Jewish funeral, and in the process of reciting the Kaddish finds within himself a "bittersweet well of memory": "He could hum along, at least, and that had to count for something."
Meanwhile, in "At the Great Divide" and "Shifman in Paradise," Spivak's coworker plays tough after a diagnosis of cancer. (Who knew Hodgkin's disease could be such a knee-slapper? Turns out Shifman's spleen is one of those "optional organs," as his doctor puts it: "You have a spleen? Fine! You don't have a spleen? Fine! No problem!") The patient's dirty little secret, however, is that he is actually enjoying himself--especially since his illness allows him easy access to the Teutonic charms of Greta Braunschweig. Previously, "if he touched her in anything resembling an intimate spot, she'd fix him with a dark Gestapo-like glare that made Shifman want to cry, 'My papers are in order!'" Now he finds himself missing her old ways, which made him feel more Jewish than he ever had in his life: "Who needed mumbled, unintelligible prayers to the Almighty and a bunch of boring lectures about ancient history, when you could get genuine firsthand persecution?"
If these heroes share anything, it's that they feel most Jewish under duress. Illness, anti-Semitism, death, a sharp blow to the head from a garden rake--any of these are enough to drive them into the arms of their ancestors. Shapiro, obviously, is a very funny writer, but he also offers up moments of surprising pathos, pitch-perfect for the stories they inhabit: flocks of homing pigeons "floating up into the sky like ashes" before remembering their way home; the painting Rosenthal does in a dream, in which his ex strains to hold back Abraham's murdering arm; Spivak's apology to his wife, beamed through the Flaxman Voice Transformer Deluxe so that he sounds like a choked-up Gregory Peck. Shapiro may have the timing of a borscht-belt comedian, but his heart is conspicuously in the right place. If anyone can make slapstick a convincing agent of moral redemption, he's the man. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
As Rabbi Futterman tells Elliot Suskind in "Suskind the Impresario": "if the mistake you make is bad enough, one is all it takes." This is a premise for tragedy, but Shapiro shapes it into high comedy in the nine stories in his second collection (after From Hunger). Suskind is a San Francisco publicist for Museum of the Mind. He's still despondent over his divorce, which happened 10 years ago, and suddenly his mother dies. Suskind's job is also at stake, and he plans to redeem himself in publicizing the museum's latest exhibit by organizing a bicycle-messenger race across the city. In a piquant twist, this involves him in a sex pageant the night before his mother's funeral, which leads to another bizarre but epiphanic eventAall of which Shapiro orchestrates with the control of a master magician. Middle-aged Leo Spivak in "Worst Case Scenario" travels to San Francisco test marketing his goofball security goods; there he runs into Betsy Ingraham, the object of his unrequited high school passion. Miraculously getting her back to his hotel room for a tryst, Spivak goes off the deep end and winds up at her home, returning her panties to her husband. In the title story, Spivak's disreputable dad dies in Arizona. The funeral turns into a shambles, with a pine coffin (kosher, but cheap), an incompetent rabbi and Leo's impromptu eulogy. By the end of the tale, Leo is afflicted with the feeling that he'll always be a schmuck. Artist Ken Rosenthal in "The Twelve Plagues" wins a prize from a Jewish organization for his contemporary interpretations of the biblical plagues. But the prize donor humiliatingly castigates him because he has added two modern-day blights: call-waiting and no parking spaces. In Shapiro's pessimistic world, even when a character gets what he wants, it immediately evokes a feeling of doom. Brimming with keen insight into the psyches of hilarious, even lovable, losers, the wacky brilliance of these remarkable stories marks Shapiro as a writer to watch. Agent, Maria Massie. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.