cover image A Letter to Harvey Milk: Short Stories

A Letter to Harvey Milk: Short Stories

Leslea Newman. Firebrand Books, $9.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-932379-43-6

These nine stories focus on an array of Jewish and lesbian concerns with a refreshing candor and lack of self-consciousness. The opening piece, ``The Gift,'' introduces a theme that runs throughout the collectionthe conflicts between religious and sexual identity. Here, a simple, straightforward narrative escorts Rachel from the age of five through her 29th year. She alternately questions and embraces the Jewish heritage thrust upon her; endures the sexual advances and Jewish American Princess jokes of a college boyfriend; discovers both her lesbianism and that ``being a lesbian is lonely. . . . Being a Jew is lonely. Being alive is lonely.'' Although pain plays a part in this volume, many of the tales celebrate with warmth and good humor the courageous maintenance of Jewish tradition in radical relationships. The title story takes a different twist as an old man finds both healing and grief in a writing course, while his Jewish lesbian teacher sees in her student an acceptance that her parents have denied her. ``Flashback,'' another startling variation, tells of a young woman's obsession with the Holocaust. The work's immediate and genuine poignancy is sometimes marred by Newman's insistence on sprinkling Yiddish terms and speech patterns throughout the dialogue. The otherwise contemporary characters confront both timely issues, like AIDS, and eternal ones, such as a lovers' quarrel or a mother-daughter misunderstanding. Newman wrote Good Enough to Eat. (June)