WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK by Nathan Englander
Best of 2012
Kirkus Star

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK

Stories

KIRKUS REVIEW

Parables of emotional complexity and moral ambiguity, with lessons that are neither easy nor obvious, by a short-story master (For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, 1999, etc.). 

The title story that opens the collection (evoking in its title both the Holocaust and Raymond Carver) is like so much of the best of the author’s narratives, with a voice that evokes a long legacy of Jewish storytelling and the sharp edge of contemporary fiction. It presents the reunion of two women who had been best friends as girls but who have married very different men and seen their lives take very different paths. One is now living an “ultra-Orthodox” family life in Israel, with a husband who insists that “intermarriage...is the Holocaust that is happening now.” The other lives in South Florida and has married a more secular Jew, who narrates the story and whose voice initially invites the reader’s identification. Yet a change in perspective occurs over the course of the visit, both for the reader and the narrator: “It is the most glorious, and silliest, and freest I can remember feeling in years. Who would think that’s what I would be saying with these strict, suffocatingly austere people come to visit our house.” Every one of these eight stories casts light on the others, but perhaps the most revelatory is “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side,” in which a writer named Nathan, described as “completely secular” and called “an apostate” by his older brother, insists that this story is “true...Not true in the way fiction is truer than truth. True in both realms.” It’s the story of how a family stays together and a relationship falls apart, told in 63 numbered sections of a paragraph or two. Like so much of this volume, it seems to exist in a literary sphere beyond the one in which the ambitions of postmodern fiction have little to do with the depths of existence beyond the page.

The author at his best.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95870-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2012




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