THE WICKED CITY by Isaac Bashevis Singer


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The cautionary chronicle of Lot, elaborately embroidered: his sojourn in Sodom, his nick-of-time escape aided by Abraham and the two angels, his wife's well-known transformation, and his subsequent stay in the desert with his two daughters who "found a cave. . . and lived like savages. . . in filth and sin." Lot initially breaks with Abraham not after a dispute, as in Genesis, but with the words "I do not wish to remain a burden to you." More jarring is the deviation from the spirit of the original in Abraham's description of his God to the people of Sodom: "He is all merciful and provides for all that lives." Admittedly, Singer gives a particularizing fictional dimension to the story and the characters. Lot, for example, is a lawyer well known for his defense of criminals, "very shrewd" but with "little feeling for justice." He thrives in Sodom, where there is great demand for his services, becoming (as crime and its defense is officially sanctioned) "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sodom." When Abraham comes to visit, Lot resists the urging of his more ruthless wife to kill the old man and talks her into leaving town with their guests just in case they speak the truth. (They don't bother to lock the door behind them, because in Sodom "lock breaking was even studied by children in school.") Such a depiction of the city verges on the comic -- its Topsy Turvy legal system makes no sense otherwise -- but Singer also seems to expect us to take the evil and its destruction in dead earnest; certainly Fisher's brooding, dark wine prints underline the somber import of it all as they document Lot's progression from cunning and greed to wild-eyed depravity. Altogether, this is no more outrageous a violation than, say, Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales, but Singer's uneasy blend of the mythic and the colloquial make it hard to swallow whole, even with all those grains of salt.
Pub Date: March 15th, 1972
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1972


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