cover image Death of Methuselah

Death of Methuselah

Isaac Bashevis Singer. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-374-13563-8

Set in the present, as well as pre-WW II Poland, in the netherworld and even at the time of the biblical deluge, this latest offering by the skillful and prolific Nobel laureate is suffused with melancholy, hypochondria and death. The 20 stories bear the Singer hallmarks: they are seemingly autobiographical, possess gossipy, digressive dialogue and simple, intimate language, frequently allude to the Holocaust and the painful rootlessness of exile, and are obsessed with sexual perversion and betrayal. A European refugee trapped by her punitive husband into an affair with his young nephew tells the narrator ""that of all the hopes a human being can have, the most splendid is death.'' ``What betrayers men are!'' a woman exclaims in one story, while, in another tale, a man declares that ``the whole male gender is at the mercy of women.'' The narrator of ``The Accuser and the Accused'' is convinced that ``here on earth justice and truth are forever and absolutely beyond our grasp.'' Two bright, delightfully fanciful rays that pierce an otherwise bleak collection are ``The Missing Line'' and ``Sabbath in Gehenna.'' In the former, an uncommon phrase, somehow omitted from a writer's column, absurdly turns up in a news item of a rival newspaper; in the latter, sinners in hell discuss how to win concessions from the angels of paradise. (April)