Novelist Black (Peep Show, 1986, etc.) takes readers on an odd but affecting journey through Jewish history. A “bobeh myseh” is Yiddish for “grandmother’s tale,” that is, an old family story of dubious provenance, and An Impossible Life is really a series of such stories strung together. Leo Polishook, a writer whose mother has been institutionalized, finds himself searching his own past and that of his parents for a clue as to the roots of her insanity. Delving into his childhood memories, he recalls an ill-concealed adulterous relationship between her and her father’s friend Binzy. More than that, he begins working his way backward through the generations, through the manifold sufferings of East European Jews in the 19th and 18th centuries, as well as through the haunting tales of demonic possession and wonder rabbis, a genre familiar from the work of I.B. Singer, among others. Interspersed with these tales is a series of dialogues between Leo and the ghost of his father; these are anything but Hamlet-like, owing more to the Borscht Belt and Woody Allen than to the Bard of Avon. Black brings to all this narrative movement a tremendous joy in the sheer act of storytelling, piling on gangsters and children, musicians and peasants, adultery, insanity, pogroms, transmigrating souls, the whole of it with gusto. As a result, his wry, often enchanting mÇlange of Jewish history and myth is experienced as a collection of tall tales. Although the book’s structure seems rather ramshackle, the authorial voice has considerable charm. Brisk and often funny, marred a little by its structural weakness and an unsatisfying epilogue.