Hymie and the Angel

Norman Beim, Author Newconcept Press $12.95 (198p) ISBN 978-0-931231-09-4
With angels still in vogue, this modern Jewish fairy tale about a man who makes a deal with his guardian angel in order to stave off death may strike a resonant chord. It's 1933, in Newark, N.J., and life is not terrific for saloon-keeper Hymie Bender, a 40-year-old, hardworking Polish immigrant surviving the Depression. Hymie's wife, Frieda, has a series of complaints and phobias; his bartender is stealing him blind; and his two children are practically strangers to him. But when Death--a dapper figure in black suit and goatee--drops by to collect Hymie, he clings to his tepid existence and turns for support to wisecracking Adam, the suspiciously virtuous new hired hand who now reveals himself to be an angel. Adam beats Death at a game of cards and wins a reprieve: if Hymie can find a willing substitute (Death has a quota, after all) within the next four months, his life will be spared. In his desperate desire to postpone his demise, Hymie seems oblivious to his own selfishness and asks several friends and relatives, including his own mother, to die in his stead. Finally, Frieda, courageous and misguided, offers her life, but just as she is about to die, fate intervenes (if anticlimactically). A playwright who often deals with the Jewish immigrant experience, Beim authentically evokes a time and place with ironic humor and a fine ear for Yiddish-inflected dialogue. While his first novel and ""part memoir"" is a lightheartedly entertaining look at loss, guilt and the will to live, he doesn't fully exploit the comic and tragic possibilities of the monstrous moral dilemma; the writing waxes melodramatic instead of sublime or edgy. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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