THE SHORT LIFE by Aharon Megged


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Megged, a prolific Israeli novelist--last seen here in 1971 with the shrill Living on the Dead--sets this one in Tel Aviv, 1966, shortly before the Six-Day War. Yehoshua Tal is a fortyish insurance man, father of a teenaged daughter and husband to Elisheva, a sharp and willful Ph.D. in comparative literature, a teacher and a professor. Yehoshua, dealing with young widows, finds opportunity--tawdry ones--to step out on his wife; Elisheva, meanwhile, is coincidentally pressing toward a decision on an infatuation of her own, with a diffident young writer. Of the two it's Elisheva's amorous disaffections, cobblings, rages, and reverses that are the crueler, more tempestuous, more interesting--while Yehoshua, guilt-ridden, is the one who finally confesses remorsefully, earning only his wife's scorn. Megged's largest problem in all this is that he's read Bellow's Herzog: he mentions the book outright a few times, perhaps to suggest that he isn't bothered by the similarities; but Bellow's themes (oh-my-God-is-this-what-life-is?) and style (intellectual-notebook riffs) do indeed sit atop Megged's novel all too heavily. As a result, what might have been a dense, muscular--though unpoetic--naturalistic novel has been crown-mashed into a dated and parochial echo, nearly a parody. Other, less derivative, works by this interesting writer would perhaps be better candidates for U.S. publication.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1980
Publisher: Taplinger