Audacious, hilarious, unabashed fiction.

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THE PINCH

The Pinch—for many years in the early 20th century a predominantly Jewish section of Memphis—has found its Whitman and its Faulkner in Stern, who's written a stylistically effusive, verbally extravagant novel.

In the late 1960s, Lenny Sklarew is living…well, not much of a life. He works in Avrom Slutsky’s bookstore, The Book Asylum, deals drugs on the side, and spends time listening to his favorite band, Velveeta and the Psychopimps. But then two things happen that change his life: he meets Rachel Ostrofsky in a bar and finds a book by Muni Pinsker called The Pinch: A History in Avrom’s bookstore. Rachel is a folklorist who came to Memphis "to research the roots of the Southern Jewish community," and she’s of course fascinated by the Pinch. And in a metafictional trope, Lenny finds out that he’s a character in Pinsker’s book. From here, Stern’s narrative gets really complex, as he bounces back and forth between the events in Lenny’s life, the early history of the Pinch, and supposed excerpts from Pinsker’s history. One of the main strands of Stern’s multilayered narrative involves Pinsker’s arrival in Memphis from Siberia in 1911, a journey financed by his uncle Pinchas Pin (nee Pinsker), a shopkeeper in the Pinch, and his wife, Katie. Shortly after his arrival, Pinsker meets and falls in love with Jenny Bashrig (aka “La Funambula,” a tightrope walker), and they consummate their relationship in the branches of an iconic oak tree. The action unfolds against visits by the Ku Klux Klan and, by the end of the novel, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Audacious, hilarious, unabashed fiction.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-715-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS

Fictional account of the unsung women operatives who helped pave the way for D-Day.

Jenoff’s (The Orphan's Tale, 2017, etc.) latest alternates between postwar America and war-torn Europe. The novel opens in 1946 as Grace, whose soldier husband died in an accident, is trying to reinvent herself in New York City. In Grand Central terminal she stumbles upon an abandoned suitcase, wherein she discovers several photos of young women. Soon, she learns that the suitcase’s owner, Eleanor, recently arrived from London, has been killed by a car. Flashback to 1943: Eleanor, assistant to the Director of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, suggests sending women agents to France to transmit radio intelligence on Nazi movements in aid of the Resistance and the coming Allied invasion. Women, she points out, are less conspicuous masquerading as civilians than men. A native speaker of French, Marie is an ideal candidate. After rigorous training, she is dropped into an area north of Paris, with scant instructions other than to send wireless transmissions as directed by her handler, Julian, code-named Vesper. For reasons not adequately fleshed out, Grace feels compelled to learn more about the women pictured and their connection with Eleanor. With the help of her late husband’s best friend, Mark, a burgeoning love interest, Grace accesses SOE records in Washington, D.C., only to find puzzling evidence that Eleanor may have betrayed her own agents. We hardly see Marie in action as a radio operator; we know of her transmissions from France mainly through Eleanor, the recipient, who immediately suspects something is off—but her superiors ignore her warnings. In any spy thriller clear timelines are essential: Jenoff’s wartime chronology is blurred by overly general date headings (e.g., London, 1944) and confusing continuity. Sparsely punctuated by shocking brutality and defiant bravery, the narrative is, for the most part, flabby and devoid of tension. Overall, this effort seems rushed, and the sloppy language does nothing to dispel that impression.

A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7783-3027-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Park Row Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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