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The Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories

Overview

“In the 25 years since [Stern] published his first book, younger Jewish writers have run with a similar shtick . . . But Stern was there first.” —The Toronto Globe and Mail

The Book of Mischief triumphantly showcases twenty-five years of outstanding work by one of our true masters of the short story. Steve Stern’s stories take us from the unlikely old Jewish quarter of the Pinch in Memphis to a turn-of-thecentury immigrant community in New York; from the market towns of Eastern ...

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The Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories

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Overview

“In the 25 years since [Stern] published his first book, younger Jewish writers have run with a similar shtick . . . But Stern was there first.” —The Toronto Globe and Mail

The Book of Mischief triumphantly showcases twenty-five years of outstanding work by one of our true masters of the short story. Steve Stern’s stories take us from the unlikely old Jewish quarter of the Pinch in Memphis to a turn-of-thecentury immigrant community in New York; from the market towns of Eastern Europe to a down-at-the-heels Catskills resort. Along the way we meet a motley assortment of characters: Mendy Dreyfus, whose bungee jump goes uncannily awry; Elijah the prophet turned voyeur; and the misfit Zelik Rifkin, who discovers the tree of dreams. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Kafka’s cockroach also makes an appearance in these pages, animated as they are by instances of bewildering transformation. The earthbound take flight, the meek turn incendiary, the powerless find unwonted fame. Weaving his particular brand of mischief from the wondrous and the macabre, Stern transforms us all through the power of his brilliant imagination.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
You have the sense, reading Stern, that he loves his creations too much to let them go. As The Book of Mischief makes clear, Stern is one of our most joyful writers. Though his characters may be prone to despair and disappointment, his vision of the world—and "the other world"—is resolutely affirmative.
—Nathaniel Rich
From the Publisher
Praise for The Book of Mischief: 

Stern's stories are suffused with nostalgia for this lost world. . . . Nothing goes unobserved." —The New York Times Book Review

"[Stern is] a dazzling stylist. . . . The soulful stories in The Book of Mischief deserve to be found." —Dallas Morning News

"Filled with pathos and humor. . . . At its most poignant, Stern's writing . . . peels away at the membranes that divide the present from the past." —The New Republic

"A magisterial collection. . . . Stern's universe is a funny one, but he's honest enough to notice that sometimes we're the punch line." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Stern's prose fuses the magical and the mundane, with an offhandedness that makes the normal seem odd, and the truly odd seem matter of fact. . . . mesmerizing." —Bookslut

Praise for The Frozen Rabbi:

“Packed to bursting with epic adventure and hysterical comedy, with grim poignancy and pointed satire . . . Stern embraces every outrageous possibility, in lush, cartwheeling sentences that layer deep mystery atop page-turning action atop Borscht Belt humor.” —The Washington Post Book World

Kirkus Reviews
"Mischief" is indeed the operative term here, for Stern's characters are subtle, slyly humorous and at times poignant. Stern's geographical range is impressive, with most of the stories unfolding in The Pinch, the Jewish section in--of all incongruous places--Memphis, Tenn. In "The Tale of a Kite," the opening story, Rabbi Shmelke is alleged to be able to fly. While this fascinates the narrator's son Ziggy, the narrator himself is less naïve and more skeptical, especially since the rabbi has a reputation for being on the "lunatic fringe" of Judaism. In "Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven," the narrator's father-in-law untowardly refuses to die and thus causes untold embarrassment to his family. In fact, even when an angel appears to take him up to paradise, Malkin refuses to believe that the angel is real and snorts that "there ain't no such place." The angel becomes understandably offended but counters: "We're even. In paradise they'll never believe you're for real." "Zelik Rifkin and the Tree of Dreams" features the title character who, testing his mother's lack of attention, announces that he robbed a bank and killed a teller. "'Just so you're careful,'" she distractedly replies. After the first eight stories, Stern moves us out of Memphis and transports us to the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. There, prophet Elijah the Tishbite finds that after millennia of commuting between heaven and earth, and after being "translated to Paradise in a chariot of flame while yet alive," he's become a voyeur. After Manhattan, Stern shifts his narratives to Europe before returning to America for the final story, set in the Catskills. Stern weaves an intricate and clever web of stories steeped in both sacred and mundane Jewish culture.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976217
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, is the author of several previous novels and story collections, including The Frozen Rabbi and The Wedding Jester. He teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.

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Table of Contents

I North Main Street, Memphis

The Tale of a Kite 5

Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven 19

Zelik Rifkin and the Tree of Dreams 29

The Lord and Morton Gruber 71

Shimmele Fly-by-Night 91

Moishe the Just 109

Aaron Makes a Match 125

Legend of the Lost 145

II The Lower East Side, New York

The Sin of Elijah 175

Romance 197

Avigdor of the Apes 225

Heaven Is Full of Windows 251

III Europe

Yiddish Twilight 257

The Ballad of Mushie Momzer 279

The Man Who Would Be Kafka 293

On Jacobs Ladder 319

IV The Catskills

The Wedding Jester 327

Glossary 369

Acknowledgments 373

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