Illustration by Clifford Harper/agraphia.co.uk
What’s it all about?:
From the up-and-coming young American writer who has contributed to McSweeney’s and written for The New Yorker comes a masterful collection of short stories that has already received rave reviews from many of the most prominent writers working today. Some of the stories are comic masterpieces, some embody as dark a vision of the universe as you are likely to encounter, and all of them showcase a writer grappling with the great questions of modern life. The title story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank” is homage to Raymond Carver whose story involved a couple chatting and drinking gin in an atmosphere with increased tension as the alcohol dis-inhibits and their tongues loosen.
What did I think?:
This is the second story in my short story challenge, please see my previous post HERE. I haven’t read anything by Nathan Englander before, but I’ve had my eye on this collection for a while, after becoming intrigued with the title. The title story features two Jewish couples, the wives of which are school friends and haven’t seen each other for a while, so it becomes quite an emotional reunion with copious amounts of alcohol (kosher of course), and “getting high.” Deb and her husband are the hosting couple, and their friends are Ultra-Orthodox Jerusaleumites living in Israel, who are no longer Lauren and Mark, but are known as Shoshana and Yerucham. Our narrator, the husband, adds a spot of humour to the situation, and his wife Deb often has to gently restrain him with a hand on his arm so he doesn’t put his foot right in it. I loved him as a character and wished we could see more of his inner thoughts as they were often highly amusing and can be seen as things we might think but never say.
As the night goes on, and the couples become more intoxicated and a bit looser, they start to volunteer information/stories that they might not usually do, in a sober state. Oh dear, a recipe for disaster! They play the “Anne Frank” game which Deb is a big fan of, being a bit “obsessed” by the Holocaust, according to her husband. I’ll keep quiet on what exactly the game consists of, but it is guaranteed that they will all look at each other in a new light. As the title story for this short story collection, and the first I’ve read of Nathan Englander, I really enjoyed it, and thought he captured the humour in the situation very effectively. I’ve read reviews that this story is the worst of the collection, but if that is the case, I’m looking forward to the rest! Great characterisation, spot-on humour, and definitely makes you think afterwards.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles