"What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank"

(Image courtesy of Knopf)

With the perennial question, “What is the future of Jewish literature?” asked time and again by scholars, book critics and the literati, one can gladly affirm its healthy future with writers like Dara Horn, Michael Chabon, Gary Shteyngart and with this latest masterpiece of short fiction, Nathan Englander.


Don’t let the title of his latest collection deceive you, for if you’re expecting a book about Anne Frank, this isn’t it. Yet, the Holocaust as a theme surfaces again and again in this collection of stories by one of America’s most promising and gifted prose writers.


The title is actually lifted from the master short story writer, Raymond Carver’s, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Yet in Englander’s zany, twisted, um, Jewish way, he manipulates it into the very first story.  In it, we have two couples one Hasidic, from Israel with 10 children and the other living in South Florida, where they both reunite thanks to Skype and Facebook.  After drinking, raiding junior’s pot stash and a case of the munchies, we come to understand the significance of the Anne Frank game or “Who Will Hide Me?”


According to Englander, who grew up in an Orthodox community in West Hempstead, Long Island, it was, “a game my sister and I played years ago... It stayed with me for two decades. At some point the things that are so personal in our own homes take on a different meaning.”


Throughout the collection, Englander taps into that religious upbringing, as well as his later life spent in Israel, infusing his work with an air of danger and often vengeance by providing an edgy perspective on everything from the settler issue in the territories with “Sister Hills” to avenging nazi-hunting, alta kockers at an Elderhostel camp in the Berkshires with “Camp Sundown.”


In this, his second collection of short stories, his narrative skills are distinctly refined and tightened, giving us eight separate page-turners that sprint. Each tale is impossible to put down until complete.


Like his predecessors, Bellow, Roth and Malamud, Englander has created a group of short stories that will be treasured, re-read and talked about for years.


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant (www.abebuzz.com) and can be reached at [email protected]