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Joseph Epstein is pretty universally considered one of the best essayist of recent times, even by those who would not necessarily agree with his generally conservative politics. For a long time he labored in the relative obscurity of The American Scholar, but in recent years his work for Commentary and The Weekly Standard has been well publicized by bloggers and his books, collecting older essays and offering extended thought on topics like Snobbery and Envy seem to have sold well enough and received good critical reviews. I try to keep up with his prodigious output, but I confess I'd missed out on his short stories. More's the pity, because, on the evidence of this collection, he would appear to be one of our best at that form too.

There's a certain sameness to the topics here, but each story is sharply etched and enjoyable. They are populated with men seemingly not unlike Mr. Epstein himself--middle-aged or older Jews from Chicago who settled into professions or academic/writing careers while others of their acquaintance futilely pursued the dream of being great artists and intellectuals. What mostly distinguishes these characters is their happiness. or at least satisfaction, with the lives they chose, often contrasted with the unhappiness of their more pretentious peers. The stories are more gentle than savage, with the most damning indictment being that there is a class of liberal poseurs who buy tickets for every cultural exhibit and show that comes along, because they think that's how you show your appreciation for art, rather than demonstrating even minimal critical judgment and weaning out the chaff from the wheat. The Minkoff of the title story is a widower who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow from Los Angeles, who gives him entree to a world with which he's unfamiliar. But he's also uncomfortable:
"I have to tell you, I'm not a $680-a-dinner-guy," Minkoff told Larissa when they were back in her living room. "It's not that I can't afford a dinner like that from time to time. It's just that I feel there's something intrinsically wrong about it. People lie and cheat and even kill for money. That being so, I've always felt that the least I can do is respect it. Spending that kind of money for a meal isn't, in my opinion, respecting it."
There speaks a man who I, at least, can identify with. And when, in one story, a character ends up becoming too close to one of the homeless guys he encounters at his El stop every day, anyone who's lived and worked in Chicago will recognize the dilemma. The more familiar you are with the social, cultural and physical milieu he's describing in these stories the more you'll enjoy them, but they're definitely worthwhile even if his world is thoroughly unfamiliar.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Joseph Epstein (2 books reviewed)
Short Stories
Joseph Epstein Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Joseph Epstein
    -SHORT STORY: The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff (Joseph Epstein, February 2009, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: WRITING MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Joseph Epstein, April 2024, First Things)
-ESSAY: Brush Off Your Shakespeare: A dissent on the Bard (by Joseph Epstein, January 2024, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Alone Again, Unnaturally: Thoughts on solitude (Joseph Epstein, June 2024, Commentary)
    -TRIBUTE: The Statustician!:Tom Wolfe was death on intellectual pretension, and he mocked those who always sought out the worst in America. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, May 24, 2018, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: West Rogers Park: A memoir (Joseph Epstein, January 2023, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Chasing Bright Medusas (Joseph Epstein, Free Beacon)
    -REVIEW: of Uncommon Wrath: How Caesar and Cato’s Deadly Rivalry Destroyed the Roman Republic by Josiah Osgood (Joseph Epstein, Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: What I Read (Joseph Epstein | August 25, 2010, The Atlantic)
    EXCERPT: Foreword to The Dimwit's Dictionary by Robert Hartwell Fiske (Joseph Epstein, Vocabula Review)
-ESSAY: Good Grief: Reflections on a dreaded emotion (Joseph Epstein, July/August, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The Green-Eyed Monster: Envy is nothing to be jealous of. (Joseph Epstein, July/August 2003, Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: In a Snob-Free Zone: Is there a place where one is outside all snobbish concerns--neither wanting to get in anywhere, nor needing to keep anyone else out? (Joseph Epstein, June 2002, Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Frisked in Munich (Joseph Epstein, 3/14/03, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Promises, Promises: Soaring expectations collide with harsh political realities. How Barack Obama looks from Chicagoland. (Joseph Epstein, 2/13/09, Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: Humor in Hopelessness: 'Zeno's Conscience' takes a wry look at life's paradoxes (JOSEPH EPSTEIN , WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Collected Prose of T.S. Eliot (Joseph Epstein, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Last Days of Roger Federer by Geoff Dyer (Joseph Epstein, WSJ)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Fred Astaire with Joseph Epstein (WBUR: On Point, 4/16/09)
    -PROFILE: Snobs: They're Made, Not Born (EMILY EAKIN, June 8, 2002, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Friendship with Joseph Epstein (Diane Rehm Show, July 11, 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: Joseph Epstein: Author of Fabulous Small Jews talks with Robert Birnbaum (Robert Birnbaum, 8/31/03, Identity Theory)
    -INTERVIEW: Fabulous Small Jews Indeed (Doug Wagner, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Not Your Regular Joe: A conversation with the essayist and editor Joseph Epstein (Katie Bolick, June 30, 1999, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Joseph Epstein, my teacher (DG Myers, DECEMBER 04, 2012, Commonplace Reader)
-ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Vocabula Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Hudson Institute)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Claremont Institute)
    -ARCHIVES: "joseph epstein" (Weekly Standard)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Commentary)

   -ESSAY: The Green-Eyed Monster: Envy is nothing to be jealous of. (Joseph Epstein, July/Ausust 2003, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age By Susan Jacoby (Joseph Epstein, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Cahiers/Notebooks, by Paul Valery (Joseph Epstein, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Birth of a snob (Joseph Epstein, June 2002, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Early Riser: The joy of getting out of bed and down to work (Joseph Epstein, February 2002, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Vote for the Philistine: I'll take Bush over the pseudointellectual Gore. (Joseph Epstein, September 30, 2000, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : In a Snob-Free Zone : Is there a place where one is outside all snobbish concerns--neither wanting to get in anywhere, nor needing to keep anyone else out? (Joseph Epstein, June 2002 , Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again (Joseph Epstein, September 28, 2002, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Hollywood Courage (Joseph Epstein, Winter 2001, Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: Among the Gentlemen-Publishers (Joseph Epstein, May 2001, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The Game of the Name (Joseph Epstein, January 2001, Vocabula Review)
    -ESSAY: You Got Attitude? (Joseph Epstein, November 2000, Vocabula Review)
    -ESSAY: BATS, Balls, and IDOLS (Joseph Epstein, September 2000, American Enterprise)
    -ESSAY: Intellectuals--Public and Otherwise (Joseph Epstein, May 2000, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Bloomin' Genius (Joseph Epstein, Hudson Review)
    -ESSAY: The old people's socialist League: the life of Irving Howe reconsidered (Joseph Epstein, August 1998, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The secret life of Alfred Kinsey. (Joseph Epstein, January 1998, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Sam Lipman at the NEA (Joseph Epstein, March 1995, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Wise, foolish, enchanting Lady Mary (Joseph Epstein, January 1995, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: C. P. Cavafy, a poet in history (Joseph Epstein, January 1994, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Selling Henry James (Joseph Epstein, November 1990, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: The big O: the reputation of George Orwell (Joseph Epstein , May 1990, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Decline & Blumenthal (Aristides, Winter 1994, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Such good taste (Aristides, Spring 1993, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Time on my hands, me in my arms. (Aristides, Autumn 1991, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Knocking on three, Winston. (Aristides, Summer 1991, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Entre nous (Aristides, Winter 1990, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Livestock (Aristides, Fall 1990, American Scholar)
    -SHORT STORY: Uncle Jack (Joseph Epstein, May 2002, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: My little Marjie (Joseph Epstein, November 01 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: A Loss for Words (Joseph Epstein, October 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Howie's Gift: A Story (Joseph Epstein, June 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Postcards (Joseph Epstein, March 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: The Master's Ring (Joseph Epstein, October 2000, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Freddy Duchamp in Action (Joseph Epstein, October 1999, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Dubinsky on the Loose (Joseph Epstein, December 1998, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Saturday afternoon at the zoo with dad (Joseph Epstein, July 1998, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Coming in With Their Hands Up (Joseph Epstein, March 2000, Commentary)
    Curious George: The psuedoprofundity of George Steiner: a review of Lessons of the Masters by George Steiner (Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Diaspora: Homelands in Exile by FrŽdŽric Brenner (Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of DiMaggio: The Hero's Life by Richard Ben Cramer (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Corrections and Empire Falls (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents by Paul Theroux (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of A Moral Temper: The Letters of Dwight Macdonald, edited by Michael Wreszin (Joseph Epstein, November 2001, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Between Father and Son: Family Letters, by V. S. Naipaul (Joseph Epstein, March 2000, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of The New Oxford Book of English Prose, edited by John Gross (Joseph Epstein, April 1999, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric, by Mark Amory (Joseph Epstein, November 1998, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of V. S. Pritchett: Complete Collected Stories (Joseph Epstein, March 1993, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe, by Emma Letley (Joseph Epstein, October 1992, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Hazlitt: A Life, by Stanley Jones (Joseph Epstein, November 1991, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Willa: The Life of Willa Cather, by Phyllis C. Robinson (Joseph Epstein, December 1983, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Making the Body Beautiful by Sander L. Gilman (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of A Company of Readers, Edited by Athur Krystal (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Ted Gioia, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Robert Birnbaum, The SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Martin Northway, New City Lit)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Larry Thornberry , American Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song (BILL RUEHLMANN, The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song (Sam Allis, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (D. Keith Mano, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Life Sentences: Literary Essays by Joseph Epstein (Emily Barton, NY Times Book Revbiew)
    -REVIEW: of Alexis De Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide by Joseph Epstein (Christopher Caldwell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Democracy’s Guide, by Joseph Epstein (Daniel J. Mahoney, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery: The American Version, by Joseph Epstein (Glenn Ellmers, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Alan Riding, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Martha Bayles, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Joan O'C. Hamilton, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Adam Begley , NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Carol Doup Muller, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Robert Finn, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Claire Zulkey, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (JoAnn Gutin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (David Ehrenstein , LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Eric J. Iannell, Ink 19)
    -REVIEW: of In a Cardboard Belt!: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage, by Joseph Epstein ( Joseph Tartakovsky, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Narcissus Leaves the Pool (Ronald McCloskey, Catholic Exchange)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship by Joseph Epstein (Stephen Metcalf, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship (William Grimes, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of FRED ASTAIRE By Joseph Epstein (David Thompson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Middle of My Tether by Joseph Epstein (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Once More Around the Block: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (Joel Conarroe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship (Mindy Aloff, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: Of The Novel, Who Needs It? by Joseph Epstein (Jacob Brogan, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Novel, Who Needs It? (Lee Oser, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of The Novel (National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Novel (John G. Grove, Real Clear Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Novel (Christopher Scalia, The Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of The Novel (Emina Melonic, City Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life: Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life By Joseph Epstein (Larry Thornberry, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Never SayYou've Had a Lucky Life (John Tamny, Real Clear Books)
    -REVIEW: of Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life (Patricia Schultheis, Washington Independent Review of Books)

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