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Ten debut stories explore the challenges and meaning of modern Judaism.

“The Tenth” tells of an aging rabbi who is forced to confront the circus of modern faith when a set of Siamese twins helps fill out the required number for the minyan, while a far from pious rebbe (“But who was he kidding, pretending to piety when he couldn’t even tell a simple story to a dying man or sit next to a woman on a bus” without having lewd thoughts?) is assigned the task of comforting an AIDS patient in “How to Comfort the Sick and Dying.” “The Lament of the Rabbi’s Daughters” follows four young women who explode in various anti-Jewish directions (ashram, acting, ambiguity) when they reach adulthood, coming together again only when the one who has disappeared suddenly resurfaces. A Russian (“Meziovsky”) and a Jew have to search long and hard for common ground of any kind when they find themselves living as neighbors in an America that is equally forgetting of both their cultures. And the moral of “The Diviners of Desire: A Modern Fable” asks what the hybrid of contemporary culture and Jewish matchmaking does to the practice of love. Leegant demonstrates talent and flexibility, hindered perhaps only by her seeming compulsion to stick to a rigid and ultimately repetitive platform. Her voice sometimes becomes so secular that the bleed into the comedic lilt of Jewish rhetoric can seem more imitation than depiction. Still, this is a wide and varied talent that may need the longer form to find its direction and boundaries. Here, the attention is well focused on the unknowableness of a fading faith: “It was all a mystery. Who knew why they did anything except in the exact moment of its doing? Once it was done it was past, the flash of certainty vanished; any attempt afterward to explain was a pale guess, nostalgia.”

One definitely to follow.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-393-05439-X
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2003