cover image Bad Jews and Other Stories

Bad Jews and Other Stories

Gerald Shapiro. Zoland Books, $24 (336pp) ISBN 978-1-58195-012-0

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 event--all 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.)