American Fiction, American Literature, David Crouse, Fire Year, gay literature, Jason k. Friedman, Jewish literature, Literature, Mary McCarthy Prize, Sarabande Books, Short Stories, small presses, Southern Fiction, The Man Back There
In November, 2013 I reviewed David Crouse’s “The Man Back There”; a collection of short stories that garnered Sarabande Books annual Mary McCarthy Prize for short fiction. Sarabande Books is a small press based in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Fire Year” by Jason K. Friedman, is a collection of short stories. It was the 2012 recipient of the Mary McCarthy Prize. The stories are Southern principally by venue, not atmosphere. The base is current day Georgia, with a few exceptions. The universal theme that pervades the stories is acceptance. The most compelling story is “Reunion”. A New York City transplant from Savannah reluctantly returns to his 25th high school reunion and his estranged brother. He is surprisingly befriended by an athletic star classmate from the right social club, who in the spirit of the modern South married a Jewish girl. Societal class runs deep and what is and is not accepted within and without that class is well presented.
“All the World’s a Field” is a story about first generation Americans. In this case it is Jewish Americans, who like others in the early 1900s, wanted to leave the Old World behind. Teaching their parents’ language and customs to the second generation was unacceptable. Success in the new homeland presumed or required assimilation. Miriam’s son Schmuel and wife forbid her to speak Yiddish, so she stops speaking. They are moving to what one day be Southern suburbia and wants to bring her cow. For Schmuel, the cow is a reminder of the Polish pogrom that his father did not survive. For Miriam it is about remembrance.
In “The Golem”, Solomon Blaustein, a Jewish auto repair shop owner who deals in second hand parts demonstrates how small charity can be. In the spirit of a mitzvah he convinces Artie, his mentally slow, old classmate and friend to come work for him on the pretext of avoiding being taken advantage of by others. Blaustein also takes advantage of Artie. He is about to fire him when Artie demonstrates a supernatural ability to predict what parts will be needed by future customers. Blaustein does not accept Artie as human; he is his golem. Artie, however, is less slow than unschooled. He quickly learns Blaustein and his trade.
The opening story “Blue” is a Bar Mitzvah coming of age tale that counterbalances acceptance by girls with the presumed expectations of God. “The Cantor’s Miracles” is another Bar Mitzvah story, this time told from the perspective of an impoverished cantor trying to make ends meet and risking the loss of his ethics.
“There Hope For Us All” is about acceptance in the world of art curating at museums. Mr. Friedman’s invention of Angelo Veneto, an Italian Renaissance painter who is being given his first one-man show by a small museum is a parody of marketing. The gay relationships that are back stories in my view detract from the story’s principal theme: the sensationalizing of art by museums. Here Veneto is discovered as a painter of transvestites by the assistant curator’s gay lover, a seller of women’s wear.
“Fire Year” is written in the form of a Jewish parable. A rabbi seems to ignore his scholarly son, in favor of his more ignorant brother. The scholarly son, who is not accepted by his peers retreats from the social world. It is a Father’s Day story of redemption.
As with Mr. Crouse, Mr. Friedman writes what he knows. Both write well and their stories are worth reading. In each case, it will be interesting to see if they expand their range.