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.