How This Night Is Different: Stories

How This Night Is Different: Stories

by Elisa Albert
     
 

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Elisa Albert's debut story collection marks the arrival of an extraordinary new voice in fiction. In How This Night Is Different, Albert boldly illuminates the struggles of young, disaffected Jews to find spiritual fulfillment. With wit and wisdom, she confronts themes -- self-deprecation, stressful family relationships, sex, mortality -- that have been

Overview

Elisa Albert's debut story collection marks the arrival of an extraordinary new voice in fiction. In How This Night Is Different, Albert boldly illuminates the struggles of young, disaffected Jews to find spiritual fulfillment. With wit and wisdom, she confronts themes -- self-deprecation, stressful family relationships, sex, mortality -- that have been hallmarks of her literary predecessors. But Albert brings a decidedly fresh, iconoclastic, twenty-first-century attitude to the table.

Holidays, gatherings, and rites of passage provide the backdrop for these ten provocative stories. The characters who populate How This Night Is Different are ambivalent, jaded, and in serious want of connection. As they go through the motions of familial duty and religious observance, they find themselves continually longing for more. In prose that is by turns hilarious and harrowing, Albert details the quest for acceptance, a happier view of the past, and above all the possibility of a future.

From the hormonally charged concentration camp teen tour in "The Living" to the sexually frustrated young mother who regresses to bat mitzvah-aged antics in "Everything But," and culminating with the powerful and uproariously apropos finale of "Etta or Bessie or Dora or Rose," How This Night Is Different is sure to titillate, charm, and profoundly resonate with anyone who's ever felt conflicted about his or her faith, culture, or place in the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Titled to reflect the customary question asked at Passover, these 10 stories by debut writer Albert explore traditional Jewish rituals with youthful, irreverent exuberance as her characters transition into marriage and child-rearing. In "Everything But," dutiful daughter Erin finds herself, after her mother's death, disturbed by the lovelessness of her marriage. In "So Long," Rachel has become "born again" as an Orthodox Jew and resolved to have her head shaved before her marriage, as per custom; the narrator, Rachel's maid of honor, struggles to suppress her sarcastic disbelief. "The Mother Is Always Upset" plays on the familial chaos of ritual circumcision (the bris): tearful mother Beth cowers in the bedroom, while exhausted new father Mark takes his cue from the sanguine mohel. And Albert, writing as nice Jewish girl Elisa Albert, becomes a cocksure writer determined to have the last word in the hilariously vulgar postmodern final story, "Etta or Bessie or Dora or Rose"-an unabashed autobiographical fan letter to Philip Roth, "the father of us all." (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
These two debut collections examine Jewish themes but take widely different approaches. In How This Night Is Different, Albert explores such themes as Jewish life-cycle events, family holiday celebrations, the Holocaust, and becoming observant by embellishing the raucous, overindulgent, overbearing aspects of Jewish life-the family at a child's ritual circumcision replete with foreskin jokes, a friend incredulous at Rachel's preparing for her Orthodox wedding after having been secular much of her life. A letter to Philip Roth idolizing his take on an earlier era and offering to have his child is actually rather funny. This collection is recommended for readers who think Jewish self-deprecation in the 21st century is still relevant. In the four stories that make up Awake in the Dark, Nayman explores the lives of children whose parents were Holocaust survivors. She delves into the psyche of her protagonists as they struggle with their own identities and the need to ferret out their parents' secrets. In "The House on Kronenstrasse," for instance, a woman buries her German mother in New York, travels back to Heidelberg, and uncovers an unbelievable past-she is not the person she thought she was. Further and more unusual unraveling of the past occurs in "The Lamp," "Dark Urgings of the Blood," and "The Porcelain Monkey." There's breathtaking storytelling here, replete with psychological detail and stunning clarity; recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.]-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Jewish rituals-some timeless, some contemporary-give thematic shape and emotional texture to this debut collection. A bris, a bat mitzvah and a funeral. A high-school trip to Auschwitz and a stint as a Hillel peer counselor. These are just a few of the rites of passage that Albert's characters must negotiate. Religion brings people together in her tales, but it also exposes and exacerbates the fissures that separate parents and children, husbands and wives, or best friends. The title story is representative of the author's sharp insight and dark sense of humor. A woman helps her parents rid their house of leavening in preparation for Passover while constantly-and miserably-conscious of a raging yeast infection. Not only does this affliction make her a walking, talking source of contamination, but the itch and burn physically echo the psychic discomfort she feels in the presence of her extended family. Albert is a spectacularly efficient writer, able to reveal more about her characters in a few well-chosen, beautifully phrased sentences than some authors can manage in an entire novel. She seems to always know the precise detail that turns a character on a page into a real person, and she keeps her narratives moving at a lively pace. Each story is well-made, and the book as a whole has a pleasingly coherent structure. Just as religious observance lends shape and meaning to life's most important moments, Jewish ritual gives these stories their focus and form. Albert captures her characters at liminal moments, and little windows of sacred time open onto scenes of worldly but soul-deep disarray. This collection will no doubt have special resonance for Jewish readers, but its appeal doesn'tstop there. The author's command of her craft should impress anyone who appreciates short fiction, and her characters are so singularly human that their power to charm and engage transcends religious affiliation. An exciting debut: sincerely touching, mordantly funny and superbly assured.
From the Publisher
"A dark, witty, and incisive take on modern-day disaffected Jewish youth." -- Variety

"A wonder-inducing blend of sharp humor, religious ambivalence, and caustic wisdom." -- Time Out New York

"What makes How This Night Is Different different is simply the fact that Elisa Albert is a funny and gutsy writer with a knack for locating the absurd poignancy in familiar situations. This is an accomplished, moving, and often risky debut." -- Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land

"Albert's protagonists are young Americans each imbued with an uncannily sharp voice, each boldly confronting their intricately conflicted lives, each looking on the world with convincing lucidity and reacting with moving joie de vivre." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Albert employs razor-sharp irony to deftly dissect how contemporary life gets tangled with ancient traditions...outrageous and poignant, dark and funny." -- Hartford Courant

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416535690
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
07/10/2006
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
File size:
230 KB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Elisa Albert is the real thing — funny, perceptive, quirky, and possessed of a unique voice. May she continue to write and thrive."

— Erica Jong

"With acid wit and bitter truth Elisa Albert rocks the High Holy house! How This Night Is Different is a postmodern mitzvah."

— Holiday Reinhorn, author of Big Cats

"Only a writer as daring as Elisa Albert would end a sharp-witted, funny, and profoundly sad debut collection with a story that yanks off the writerly mask and slashes the safety net. My jaw dropped — and not just because I was laughing."

— David Gates, author of Jernigan and The Wonders of the Invisible World

"How is this book different? It manages to be sharp, unflinching, tender, funny, smart, and vastly entertaining all at once."

— Tova Mirvis, author of The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary

"Elisa Albert is the wild, late-coming progeny of Philip Roth and Grace Paley, and we are lucky to have her. Her stories take contemporary Jewish life by the scruff of its neck and give it the shaking that it deserves. There is no piety here, only what you want most from a story: hot prose and the human comedy."

— Jonathan Wilson, author of A Palestine Affair

"Explores traditional Jewish rituals with youthful, irreverent exuberance...hilariously vulgar."

Publishers Weekly

"Elisa Albert provides ample evidence of just how this smart, funny, outrageous young Jewish writer is different — she's wildly entertaining, incisive as an ice pick, deeply engaged, and curiously, memorably moving. Philip Roth will surely be amused and deliciously appalled, as will you, Gentle Reader, at her inheritance and renewal of the culture and the dream."

— Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Machine Dreams and Motherkind

"Elisa Albert is a funny and gutsy writer with a knack for locating the absurd poignancy in familiar situations. This is an accomplished, moving and often risky debut."

— Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and Venus Drive

"Elisa Albert spins dark comedy into gold. Smart, sexy, and funny as all get-out, her stories are also profound and poignant. This is a story collection to cherish."

— Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of Hester Among the Ruins and An Almost Perfect Moment

Meet the Author

Elisa Albert is the author of the short story collection How This Night is Different and the novel The Book of Dahlia.  She has taught creative writing at Columbia University and is currently Writer-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Holland.

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