Thoughtful, but too long and attenuated. At this stage of Hamburger’s career, his short stories are better.

FAITH FOR BEGINNERS

An American Jewish family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem is the subject of this debut novel from Hamburger (The View from Stalin’s Head, stories, 2004).

When 22-year-old underachiever Jeremy Michaelson almost dies of a drug overdose, pragmatic matron Helen shepherds him and her terminally ill husband David (a retired psychoanalyst) onto a tour (“Michigan Miracle 2000”) that arrives in Haifa during a punishing heat wave. While Jeremy, happily gay and ever on the prowl, checks out a “cute Hasid” and gets harassed by “handsome, snickering Arab bullies,” Helen searches the World of her Fathers for inspiration, guidance and an understanding of why she and David have produced two gay sons (her elder, unlike reckless Jeremy, is a respected professional secure in a long-term relationship). The novel thus splits into two halves. We follow Jeremy as he attends a rowdy Shabbat dinner hosted by an Orthodox acquaintance, courts a shy, closeted yeshiva student, flashes his Western liberal’s credentials in social situations that cry out for reticence, then undertakes a whirlwind affair with a deaf Palestinian kindergarten teacher (which puts the latter in very real danger). Meanwhile, Helen attracts the initially unwelcome attentions of sexy Rabbi Sherman, stumbles through a meeting with Shimon Peres at a public reception and experiences a moment of mingled enlightenment and further confusion in an underground cave (Jerusalem tourist attraction Hezekiah’s Tunnel)—in a lame echo of the Marabar Caves incident in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Hamburger strives mightily for variety, introducing chapters with excerpts from Jewish history or doctrine (“Faith for Beginners,” as it were), and focusing briefly on the moribund David, as he resigns himself to his fate and returns home early. As Helen, Jeremy and their varied instructors all learn, “No one ever said it was easy to be a Jew. . . .”

Thoughtful, but too long and attenuated. At this stage of Hamburger’s career, his short stories are better.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6298-5

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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