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by & Isaac Bashevis Singer

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0140186980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

You often write on the topic of jealousy." So says a chance acquaintance to narrator I.B. Singer in one of the 20 stories here. And never before has the Singer preoccupation with sexual jealousy, or romantic disillusionment, seemed so intense (and so limiting) as it does in this new collection--which occasionally beguiles but mostly disappoints. In one tale after another, the same scenario--usually set in pre-WW II Poland--unfolds predictably: a man discovers that the woman he loves is unfaithful, a "whore" whose betrayal turns the man into a bitter cynic. Three stories offer a clinical variant on this model: the married man (perhaps latently homosexual) who encourages his wife's adultery. Even "The Last Gaze," about the funeral of an elderly man's middle-aged girlfriend, turns into another faithless-woman fable. And only one version--"The Bitter Truth," in which the husband remains blissfully ignorant about the wife's perfidy--provides enough texture or twist to sustain interest once the formula takes over. When Singer does explore other subject-matter here, the results are generally thin and anecdotal. In "Disguised," a wife discovers her ex-husband's sexual secret: territory covered more richly in earlier Singer stories. "The Missing Line" and "The Accuser and the Accused" offer strange, mildly intriguing happenings from the Yiddish Writers' Clubs of Singer's past. Quirks of character--obsessive gift-giving, blind passion--are the subtance of "Gifts" and "Dazzled." The supernatural turns up in three pieces: "The Jew from Babylon" is a miracle--worker losing his lifelong battle against the "Evil Ones"; "Sabbath in Gehenna" is a whimsical glimpse of political unrest among the sinners of Hell; the title story treats ancient Methuselah to hellish visions of corrupt, kinky Sodom--which make him welcome death. And "Logarithms" features the conflict between secular intellect and religious orthodoxy. Only one story, in fact, has the full-bodied flavor--if not the full development--of prime Singer: "The Hotel," about the meeting of two unhappily retired businessmen in Miami. Completely missing are the richly autobiographical excursions that gave some previous collections such mischievous bounce. So this is very much lesser Singer: always readable, of course, but rather monotonic and undernourished.