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BUT IS HE JEWISH?

AND OTHER QUIRKY TALES

A collection of short, slightly repetitive comic stories.

Wolf’s humorous story collection pokes fun at the foibles of Jewish life.

Actor Jeff Goldblum has his legs surgically shortened to portray a famous little person who helped others escape from Auschwitz. A man suspects that a mohel about to perform a bris is actually a famous Nazi in hiding. Brothers raised in Conservative Judaism drift in separate directions in adulthood—one becomes more religious, one less—which leads to unforeseen consequences for one of their daughters. In these 60 stories, many only a few paragraphs long, the author explores the ironies and absurdities of Jewish American life, from questions about religious law to minor social transgressions. The title story contains an extended conversation in which the narrator’s Jewish mother attempts to determine whether the plumber he’s just hired is also Jewish (“What am I asking? I’d just like to know if he’s Jewish. That’s all. What’s so bad?”). The author’s prose exhibits the practiced economy of a standup comedian: “L’Affaire A-hole”begins, “Sy Blyweiss was pickpocketed at a nudist colony and immediately reported the theft to the police. Through a combination of state-of-the-art proctology and forensic science, investigators gathered and identified the culprit’s fingerprints.” Many of the stories are essentially long-form jokes that build to punchlines, which can be rather groan-inducing (several of these involve puns). The better stories end in less jokey places, either in moments of sincerity, as in “Changes,” a story of a hard-to-please father, or in moments of irony that do not rely on wordplay. Some pieces (collected in the “MISHEGAS” section) abandon narrative for lists and questions; the final section is made up of imagined dialogues between anthropomorphized animals. The text is accompanied by Weidner’s full-color, hand-drawn illustrations. Wolf’s humor is of a certain vintage and will likely appeal most to readers of his same generation, especially if they too are from a Jewish background.

A collection of short, slightly repetitive comic stories.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1647496951

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Go to Publish

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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