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It's easy to overstate the value of the Internet, but here's one instance where it comes in really handy.  You don't have to take my word about this book and you don't have to buy it or check it out of the library; three of the better stories are actually available online : The Twenty-Seventh Man; The Gilgul of Park Avenue; and For the Relief of Unbearable Urges.  Take a look for yourself, for free, and draw your own conclusions.  Of these, I would particularly recommend Twenty-Seventh Man, which I thought was the best in this collection.

Personally, I think that these three stories demonstrate both the considerable strength and the significant weakness of Englander's style.  Each of the stories is built up around a clever idea : a group of writers is taken away to be executed, but an unpublished writer, accidentally included, authors their final tale; a WASP has an epiphany in a New York City taxi cab and realizes he has a Jewish soul, much to his wife's chagrin; and, an Orthodox Israeli whose wife won't sleep with him gets a dispensation from his rabbi to visit a prostitute, "for the relief of unbearable urges."  These are all engaging situations, but as the stories progress, the author seems intent on torturing the characters. He writes with great humor and wit about the collision between traditional religiosity and the modern world, but in the end, each tale is pretty depressing.   Now, from what the profiles say, and what Englander says himself in interviews, I take it that he was raised an Orthodox Jew, but has abandoned his beliefs.  That's all well and good, but it seems a mistake to me to draw the conclusion from his own experience that piety and reality are incompatible.  I was left admiring Englander's talent, but not much liking his stories.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

See also:

Short Stories
Book-related and General Links:
    -AUTHOR SITE : Nathan Englander (Bold Type)
    -STORY : The Twenty-Seventh Man (Nathan Englander, Book Browse)
    -STORY : The Gilgul of Park Avenue (Nathan Englander, Atlantic Monthly)
    -STORY : For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Nathan Englander, Bold Type)
    -AUDIO : Nathan Englander reads from  "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (Salon)
    -INTERVIEW : Worlds Apart : A conversation with Nathan Englander, the author of The Atlantic's March short story  (Atlantic Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW : with Nathan Englander (Bold Type)
    -New York State Writers Institute - Nathan Englander
    -Nathan Englander (Book Browse)
    -PROFILE : How Nathan Englander Survives His New Fame : The Last Fool of Chelm (DAVID GARZA, Austin Chronicle)
    -PROFILE : A Portrait of Nathan Englander (Paul Zakrzewski, Generation J)
    -READING GUIDE : to For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Book Browse)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (James E. Young, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (John Perry, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (John Freeman, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (David Brickner, Jews for Jesus)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges  By Nathan Englander ( Diana Abu-Jaber, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW : of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges  By Nathan Englander (Greg Changnon, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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