My Book World
There is so much to like about these eighteen stories mostly featuring characters over the age of sixty. As the title suggests, each protagonist is short, yet Epstein never makes a to-do about it, and indeed it is a point of irony because many of them, though short in stature, are not small people. In fact, Epstein pulls readers into every narrative about poor Jews, poor Jews who become comfortable or well-off, or Jews who have always had money. Most everyone in these Chicago-based stories attends good schools, earns good money. But money alone cannot in any way make up for the heartache they suffer: marriages ending in divorce; fathers who die in war; widows looking (or not) for a man to fill their lives.
Fabulous small Jews have their own stores, their own banks, their own restaurants and delis, their own you-name-its. Epstein very quietly limns the lives of Jews almost anywhere in the world: because of prejudices held against them for thousands of years they must band together to protect, coddle, nurture, and love one another. And yet, readers can’t help but love these characters, too: an old man belatedly gets to know his grandson (I cried); a man secretly writes poems about a woman and the executor of his will, to preserve the woman’s reputation, instead of burning the manuscript, spreads it to the four winds from his car window on the freeway; a man quietly helps another man to end his life. Is the act one of suicide, euthanasia, or murder? Epstein does not answer that question but leaves it to each reader to decide, and I admire his courage in taking such a stance.
A must-read for Gentiles (like me) and Jews alike.
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | Hervé Guibert's To the friend who did not save my life