FABULOUS SMALL JEWS

Joseph Epstein, Author . Houghton Mifflin $23 (352p) ISBN 978-0-395-94402-8

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. (July 7)

Forecast:The wide audience who enjoyed Epstein's insights into human nature in Snobbery will find him equally acute here. The book should enjoy brisk sales. Author tour.

Reviewed on: 06/23/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 340 pages - 978-0-618-44658-2
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-547-52674-4
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