Shades of the absurd, Orthodox Jewish style, in a nutty little debut collection of 14 stories.
An 18-year-old Lubavitcher yeshiva student wakes up one morning in the form of a “very large goy” and terrorizes the community of bickering rabbis in “The Metamorphosis.” In “God Is a Big Happy Chicken,” newly dead Yankel Morgenstern ascends to heaven to discover that God is—surprise!—Chicken himself, “who gets his feed filled in the morning, and his droppings cleaned in the afternoon and that’s all He really wants to know.” And though Yankel is allowed to return to tell what’s what to his devoted family, still praying to a non-fowl deity, he can’t bring himself to disabuse them of their cherished ideals. In “Bobo the Self-Hating Chimp,” a small male chimpanzee in the Bronx Zoo achieves “total conscious self-awareness” one day when he recognizes that he feels shame—thanks to a “bright red erection”—and has a kind of breakdown that leads him to reject his previous monkey existence as meaningless and embrace suicide. In his theatrically deadpan moments, humor writer Auslander revisits Beckett, most notably, while a fear-and-loathing urban sensibility à la Woody Allen also springs to mind, along with Kafka, in these grim, seemingly silly pieces that possess a direct comic hit. “Holocaust Tips for Kids” is a marvelously twisted catalogue of grisly historical facts mixed with juvenile naïveté and fear: “Anne Frank hid in her attic for over two years. / Maybe I should pack more food.” Many of the stories skewer in some fashion what may be more contentious and solipsistic aspects of Judaism. In the last tale, for example, “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Supremey,” a balding junior accountant, Epstein, creates two slavish golem from the Kabbalah for Dummies only to watch them kill each other over finer points of law.
Too brief by far, but with enough sparks to give an idea of the author’s irreverent revelations. Overall, a fresh voice, and wonderfully fearless.