Nathan Englander

All posts tagged Nathan Englander

Short Stories Challenge – Camp Sundown by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published July 5, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Camp Sundown all about?:

In the outlandishly dark “Camp Sundown” vigilante justice is undertaken by a group of geriatric campers in a bucolic summer enclave.

What did I think?:

Camp Sundown has to be one of my favourites in this collection, the subject matter is fairly dark (which I love!) and the writing so compelling that I found myself really caring about what happened to these characters, despite having “known” them only a short space of time. Nathan Englander’s main character is Josh who is the new director at a Jewish summer camp for the elderly and replacing Rabbi Himmelman who was rumoured to have left under suspicious circumstances i.e. a bit of inappropriate fondling. Josh is enjoying his time managing the camp but this year is having a bit of an issue with two residents in particular, seventy-six year old Agnes Brown and her sidekick Arnie who appear to make a habit of complaining about something every year that they stay there.

This year however their complaint is of a more serious nature, accusing one of their fellow residents, Doley Falk of being a Nazi and demanding justice in the form of a camp trial so that he can be formally ostracised. Josh is appalled at their accusation and demands that they leave the old man alone but they are pretty determined, insisting that they recognise his face from one of the concentration camps – Arnie displaying his numbered arm as proof that he was incarcerated in one. What Josh cannot fathom is just how far the elderly residents will be prepared to go in their quest for vengeance and whether these actions are right or wrong.

I find any story involving The Holocaust fascinating and this dark little tale was just that. We are never told whether Doley Falk is in fact a Nazi in hiding but Agnes and Arnie are so insistent that even Josh himself, a fairly tolerant person, finds himself questioning whether Doley is guilty. As with the other stories in this collection I loved learning more about the Jewish religion and really enjoyed the black humour that appears to be Englander’s trademark. The only thing I wasn’t completely certain of was the ending. In one sense it was genius and definitely had the shock factor but on the other side it felt like too much of a cliffhanger and I was frustrated that too many things were left up in the air. I suppose your imagination could fill in the blanks!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Giant’s Boneyard by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Short Stories Challenge – Everything I Know About My Family On My Mother’s Side by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published February 8, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Everything I Know About My Family On My Mother’s Side all about?:

This story is about a Jewish man who is worried that his family is not as interesting as his Bosnian girlfriends. When he digs into his past however, he finds a few stories that surprise him.

What did I think?:

First of all, I have to talk about the difference in the way this story was written compared to the other stories in the collection. The interesting thing about it is that it is compiled of short paragraphs in a numerical list 1-63, which I found a unique way to tell a tale and was instantly intrigued. As it begins, our Jewish (although he has given up his faith) narrator appears to be an onlooker watching a couple and the way they are talking. He is trying to figure out whether they are husband and wife but eventually settles on boyfriend and girlfriend then it turns out that the boyfriend or “little Jew” is actually him. His Bosnian girlfriend is desperately trying to pry information about him regarding his family, whom he regards as fairly ordinary with no exciting or interesting stories to tell.

We find out as the story continues that the girlfriend, or his “Bean,” as he likes to refer to her, has left him:

“45. It ended because another person wants you to need to be with them, with her, specific – not because you’re afraid to be alone.”

Our narrator delves a bit deeper into his past trying to learn as much as he can about his family primarily on his mother’s side. We find out that many things have been suppressed, forgotten or glossed over and emotions typically, in this family are never to be expressed:

“40. Do you want to know how I felt? Do you want to know if I cried? We don’t share such things in my family – we don’t tell this much even. Already I’ve gone too far. And put being a man on top of it; compound the standard secretiveness and shut-downness of my family with manhood. It makes for another kind of close-to-the-vest, another type of emotional distance, so that my Bosnian never knew what was really going on inside.”

Other sad discoveries include the death of his grandfather’s brother at the tender age of eight from a brain tumour. Although that wasn’t exactly the truth of the matter (he died from a cut on his hand which became septic). The family didn’t call a doctor in time so they dealt with their guilt by insisting that it was a brain tumour that afflicted him. Our narrator is spellbound about the family secrets he is unearthing but there is always an undercurrent of doubt about the truth behind them.

For me, I got more enjoyment out of this story by reading it a second time and noticing the smaller details that had escaped me on the first reading. As I mentioned previously I thought the layout of the story was very interesting and made it quite special to read and I loved that there was a mixture of both melancholy and happy moments – a boy peeing on a rabbi’s hat did make me chuckle a bit. The only thing I’m slightly unsure of in this tale is the ending. The author has put a hefty dose of sadness in it which tugs at your heart-strings but for some reason I found it slightly unfinished and was a bit disappointed. Saying that, he is a fantastic writer and I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do next.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Magpies by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Challenge: Short Stories October to December

Published October 9, 2014 by bibliobeth

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It’s that time again short story fans! This is what I’ll be reading short story wise from now until the end of 2014.

Week beginning 6th October

 Looking Up Vagina by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 13th October

The Pool by Daphne Du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 20th October

Partial Eclipse by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 27th October

The Fly And Its Effect Upon Mr Bodley by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 3rd November

Busted by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 10th November

Nocturne by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music And Nightfall

Week beginning 17th November

The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 24th November

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 1st December

The Common Enemy by Natasha Cooper from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 8th December

Note To Sixth-Grade Self by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 15th December

A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 22nd December

Mrs Todd’s Shortcut by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 29th December

Everything I Knew About My Family On My Mother’s Side by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Short Stories Challenge – Peep Show by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published September 3, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s Peep Show all about?:

Peep Show tells the story of a man who has turned his back on his religion and is wrestling with sexual longing as he visits a peep show.

What did I think?:

I found Peep Show, the fourth story in this collection to be a strange little tale, of which I am still trying to collect my thoughts about. It follows a man now known as Allen Fein who changed his name from Ari Feinberg while he turned his back on his Jewish faith. He is married to Claire who is now pregnant with their child but on Allen’s homeward commute one day he decides to visit a peep show. The usual rules apply for the customer’s pleasure – they buy tokens which they can use to open a partition allowing them to view scantily dressed girls. There is a time limit on the token however and when this runs out the partition closes and the customer must insert another token to be able to view the girls again. Allen becomes slightly enamoured with the first girl he sees sitting before him and is permitted to touch her for a brief period of time before his token runs out. After the first token period has expired Allen realises he is more aroused than he has ever been in his life and feels a huge amount of guilt and shame as he remembers his pregnant wife Claire who is at home waiting for him to return to work.

Unable to help himself, Allen inserts the second token to re-open the partition but instead of the beautiful girl he was fondling, on the chairs sit a host of naked rabbi’s, all whom Allen has known through his life who berate him for turning his back on his religion. Allen tries to defend himself but is quite weak against their arguments until the partition closes again. Hardly able to bear it, Allen inserts his third token, trying to clear his mind of the naked rabbi’s and picture the girl again but instead two people who he would never expect to see at the show appear half-dressed in front of him, which we as the reader know is a figment of imagination from his guilty mind.

This is probably one of the most peculiar stories I have read during my Short Story Challenge but at the same time I was strangely fascinated by it. The writing is excellent, as always from Nathan Englander and I appreciated the humour aspect running through the story as I pictured poor Allen staring at his naked rabbi’s. As always, the Jewish faith and a sense of conflict for the character is a hot theme of which I was particularly intrigued by in this story. It’s probably not the best I’ve read from this author, but reading it was definitely an interesting experience!

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Lights In Other Peoples Houses by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Challenge: Short Stories July to September

Published July 7, 2014 by bibliobeth

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I’ve really been enjoying my Short Stories Challenge so far, if you want to see what I’ve been reading so far, search for Short Stories Challenge on my main page and you should get a few (ahem!) entries. And here’s my batch of short stories for the next three months!

 Week beginning 7th July

The Colour Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 14th July

The Blood Pearl by Barry Maitland from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 21st July

The Isabel Fish by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 28th July

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 4th August

Cain Rose Up by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 11th August

Peep Show by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 18th August

Lights In Other Peoples Houses by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 25th August

Child of Light by Randy Taguchi from the collection Fujisan

Week beginning 1st September

Proving Up by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 8th September

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 15th September

The Agency by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 22nd September

I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 29th September

A Day In The Life Of Half Of Rumpelstiltskin by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Short Stories Challenge – How We Avenged The Blums by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published March 28, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s How We Avenged The Blums all about?:

These eight new stories from the celebrated novelist and short-story writer Nathan Englander display a gifted young author grappling with the great questions of modern life, with a command of language and the imagination that place Englander at the very forefront of contemporary American fiction. How We Avenged The Blums is a tale about how a group of young boys stand up to a neighbourhood bully who seems to be targeting one Jewish family in particular, the Blums.

What did I think?:

How We Avenged The Blums is the third story in this collection by Nathan Englander and for the most part I did enjoy it although I think the first two stories have the edge so far. It concerns a Jewish family called Blum who are being terrorised by a bully – nicknamed the “Anti-Semite.” After a particularly nasty spat of bullying where the youngest Blum is knocked unconscious the boys in the neighbourhood decide that they have had enough and decide to take matters into their own hands. The police force are not being entirely helpful or sympathetic and it seems more dangerous for Jewish families to report abuse rather than keeping quiet and trying to deal with it themselves, in other words the bullying gets worse: “Call the police on every anti-Semite,” my mother said, “and they’ll need a separate force.”

The boys enlist the help of a Russian Jew, Boris, (who is somewhat of a hero to them as one of Russia’s oppressed people) to coach them in self-defence so that they will be able to fight back if required: “Boris told us to hold our ground. ‘Worst cases,’ he said, ‘raise hand like in defeat and kick for ball.'” The boys throw themselves diligently into their training, but don’t seem to be able to follow through or have the stomach for violence when required. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in this story (see previous quote!), and when the boys good-naturedly ask their friend Chung-Shik if they can practice terrorising him for a bit because he’s “different.” The things they learn through Boris don’t last that long unfortunately when he has to leave, and when Mrs Blum is attacked on her own drive, being mistaken for one of the younger Blums their plans for retaliation are forced into action. Well, even if this action has to come from an older, more violently-knowledgeable Jewish boy as their shield!

Although this isn’t my favourite story in the collection so far I still appreciated it as a good way to spend twenty minutes or so. I’m finding myself re-hashing the ending still in my own mind even though I’ve finished – the sign of a decent tale! I think it throws up some interesting questions about anti-semitism, while still remaining in its own way darkly humourous and leaves the reader wondering whether sinking down to the level of the bully is worth all the hassle. The only thing I wished for was a bit more explanation of the Jewish customs and traditions, but that’s purely my own ignorance and is definitely something I would research for my own enjoyment at a later date.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Of Mothers And Little People by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

 

Challenge: Short Stories January to March

Published January 1, 2014 by bibliobeth

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Hello 2014! I absolutely loved my Short Stories Challenge which I started last year. I found lots of new authors, and a new found respect for short stories in general. So here we go again…..

Week beginning 6th January

The Blue Lenses by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 13th January

Black Dust by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales for a Dark Evening

Week beginning 20th January

Clara and the Rat Man by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 27th January

Cold Cold Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 3rd February

Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Week beginning 10th February

Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint by Caitlin R. Kiernan from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 17th February

The Festival by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 24th February

Ghosts by John Harvey from the collection The Mammoth Book of  Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 3rd March

When She Is Old and I Am Famous by Julie Orringer from the collection How to Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 10th March

The Student by Anton Chekhov from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 17th March

The Monkey by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 24th March

How We Avenged the Blums by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 31st March

Of Mothers and Little People by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles