From the Publisher
“What good news-- more stories by Steve Stern! I am a zealous admirer of his one-of-a-kind imagination and his miraculous sentences.” Cynthia Ozick
“To be a true inheritor carries with it the responsibility of expanding that tradition and keeping it vital. In The Wedding Jester, Steve Stern does both. Only a writer with a deep reverence for and a connection with the ancient story-telling power of his rich folkloric sources could concoct the often irreverently comic twists that distinguish these genuinely marvelous-- and always vital-- stories.” Stuart Dybek
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rich and wondrous, these nine tales confirm Stern's (A Plague of Dreamers) distinctive place in modern American Jewish fiction, as he continues to stake out his own unique territory where history and myth intersect, where Jewish legends, mysticism and ancient traditions implode into the everyday with dazzling and unforeseen consequences. "Magic realism" seems too facile a term to encompass these beguiling, multilayered stories in which a flying rabbi floats above houses and trolleys; a humble cobbler and his wife, transported to Paradise via extraordinarily "ecstatic intercourse," enlist the aid of Elijah, prophet-turned-honorary angel, to return them to earth; and a voracious, man-hungry succubus steps from a mirror to seduce a terrified yeshiva scholar. Fervent dreamers, crackpot messiahs, bedeviled housewives, rowdy beekeepers, vagrant angels and wise fools fiercely pursue their obscure destinies in ingenious fictions that prismatically filter Jewish history, tragedy, consciousness, hope and despair through a modern existential lens. In the hilarious and outrageous title story, set in a Catskills singles resort, the bride-to-be--moments before she can say "I do"--is possessed by a dybbuk, in this case the spirit of a wisecracking dead male Borscht Belt comedian. The narrator, a blocked writer who could be Stern's alter-ego, uses a kabbalist kissing technique to exorcise the unruly spirit-which then possesses him. This irreverent, classic story plumbs Jewish humor as a source of strength, a survival tool, a vehicle to resist cant and conformity. Stern's tales utterly transport readers into a fully realized world, whether the setting is the neurotic, Seinfeld-like milieu of a Manhattan writer ("Bruno's Metamorphosis"), or czarist Russia's Jewish ghetto and New York's Lower East Side ("Romance"), or Stern's favorite haunt, a Memphis, Tenn., Jewish community in uneasy coexistence with its gentile neighbors ("Tale of a Kite"). With empathy and bracing wit, Stern's enjoyable stories seismically chart the collision of the Old World and the New, of undying religious traditions and modern secularism, of lust and love, faith and doubt. (June)
In this collection of nine action-packed, richly folkloric stories, Stern (A Plague of Dreamers, LJ 11/1/93) takes his readers on a surrealistic ride steeped in tradition. Jewish mysticism, magic, and otherworldly concerns are featured throughout. In "The Sin of Elijah," Gitl and Feybush Fefer live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the early part of the century. Unbeknownst to them, their lovemaking is observed by Elijah the prophet, leading to a trip to heaven, a return to Earth in the present, and other riotous hijinks. In the title story, nondescript writer Saul Bozoff accompanies his mother to a wedding at the Concord Hotel in New York's Catskill Mountains. His shining moment comes when he is able to exorcise a dybbuk from the bride, who becomes possessed at the altar by a long-dead Jewish comic. Apparitions, the fantastical, and uproarious hilarity are featured throughout. Recommended for large fiction collections.--Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
A new collection of nine stories by the highly regarded author of, most recently, A Plague of Dreamers (1994). Stern is sort of the poet laureate of Southern Jewish America, a Memphis native who has managed to transplant the sardonic magical realism of Malamud and I.B. Singer to the exotic climes of the Mississippi Delta. His latest volume is set in numerous other places as well, including the shtetls of Eastern Europe and a fading Catskills hotel-resort, but the themes that have run through his previous work dominate: the tension between religious belief and secular identity in American Jewry, sexual longing, and fear of failure in a success-obsessed culture. Stern's tone is wryly ironic throughout, even in a charming children's story, "A String Around the Moon," which serves as a gentle coda to the book. Elsewhere, most notably in the sardonic title piece, in which a none-too-successful writer of Jewish folklore finds himself performing a Borscht Belt exorcism, and "The Sin of Elijah," in which the prophet Elijah engages in some increasingly not-so-innocent voyeurism, the humor turns downright corrosive. Stern's narrators tend to be nebbishes eaten up with self-loathing (even Elijah retails a line of clever self-deprecation): men who look back on wasted lives with a longing for the unfulfilled promises of adolescence. The result, although a bit repetitive in large doses, is poignantly funny when the stories are taken one at a time. A book to sip with great pleasure, but not to imbibe at a single sitting.
Read an Excerpt
The Wedding Jester
By Steve Stern
Graywolf Press Copyright © 1999 Steve Stern
All right reserved.
Chapter One From "The Tale of a Kite":
Comes the auspicious day of Mr. Crump's visit to North Main Street. This is the political boss's bimonthly progress, when he collects his thank-yous (usually in the form of merchandise) from a grateful Jewish constituency. We have good reason to be grateful, since in exchange for votes and assorted spoils, the Red Snapper, as he's called, has waived the blue laws for our district. He also looks the other way with respect to child labor and the dry law that would have put yours truly out of business. Ordinarily Boss Crump and his entourage, including his hand-picked mayor du jour, like to tour the individual shops, receiving the tributes his schwartze valet shleps out to a waiting limousine. But today, tradition notwithstanding, we're drawn out-of-doors by the mild April weather, where we've put together a more formal welcome.
When the chrome-plated Belgian-Minerva pulls to the curb, we're assembled in front of Ridblatt's Bakery on the corner of Jackson Avenue and North Main. Irving Ostrow is offering a brace of suits from his emporium, as solemnly as a fireman presenting a rescued child, while Benny Rosen appears to be wrestling a string of salamis. Harry Nussbaum renders up a bale of cigars, myself a case of schnapps, and Rabbi Fein a ready blessing along with his perennial bread and salt. Puffed and officious in his dual capacity as neighborhood ward heeler and committee chair, Ostrow has also prepared an address: "We citizens of North Main Street pledge to be a feather in the fedora of Mayor Huey, I mean Blunt ..." (Because who can keep straight Mr. Crump's succession of puppet mayors?)
Behind us, under the bakery awning, Mickey Panitz is ready to strike up his klezmer orchestra; igniting his flash powder, a photographer from the Commercial Appeal ducks beneath a black hood. Everyone (with the exception, of course, of the Shpinker zealots, who lack all civic pride) has turned out for the event, lending North Main Street a holiday feel. We bask in Boss Crump's approval, who salutes us with a touch to the rim of his rakish straw skimmer, his smile scattering a galaxy of freckles. This is why what happens next, behind the backs of our visitors seems doubly shameful, violating as it does such a banner afternoon.
At first we tell ourselves we don't see what we see; we think, maybe a plume of smoke. But looks askance at one another confirm that, not only do we share the same hallucination, but that the hallucination gives every evidence of being real. Even from such a distance it's hard to deny it: Around the corner of the next block, something is emerging from the roof of the railroad tenement that houses the Shpinker shtibl. It's a wispy black and gray something that rises out of a propped open skylight like vapor from an uncorked bottle. Escaping, it climbs into the cloudless sky and hovers over North Main Street, beard and belted caftan aflutter. There's a fur hat resembling the rotary brush of a chimney sweep, a pair of dun-stockinged ankles (to one of which a rope is attached) as spindly as the handles on a scroll. Then it's clear that, risen above the telephone wires and trolley lines, above the water tanks, Rabbi Shmelke floats in a doleful ecstasy.
Excerpted from The Wedding Jester by Steve Stern Copyright © 1999 by Steve Stern. Excerpted by permission.
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