In the second place-winning story from the Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest, a Manhattan publicist returns to his sleepy Southern hometown and attempts to revitalize its Jewish life.
Many writers seem daunted by the autobiographical novel—ashamed to write of themselves, as if that were either self-indulgence or exploitation. And of course with James Joyce and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a paragon, many do not even dare to try. But Joyce didn’t frighten off E.L. Doctorow, who mined his own Depression-era childhood in New York for the 1986 National Book Award-winning World’s Fair.
We live in the era of Jewish historical fiction. Hundreds of novels set at some point in the long Jewish past have been published in recent years, some based on biblical stories or Jewish folk tales, others built around major historical figures. The phenomenon shows no sign of slowing, with readers continuing to greedily devour historical fiction, and writers delighted to feed their addiction.
Leib’s brother was named Michael, after Michael Faraday, creator of the balloon and author of the work The Chemical History of the Candle. Faraday was a prominent chemist and physicist during the mid-1800s, and Leib’s father—a balloonist during the week, an aspiring inventor on weekends—found Mr. Faraday’s biography and rubbery inventions encouraging in both his personal and professional life.
Lecha Dodi // According to tradition, Mordechai led the way. When the day was expiring, he emerged from his house in white garments. The cares of the working week fell away, and he prepared with discreet joy for the Sabbath. His hair, just visible under his head covering, would be moist from immersion in the ritual bath.
Be wary of historical fiction, especially if it’s good. It will forever mix up in your mind what actually happened, or what we can be fairly certain happened, with the inventions of playwrights and novelists, whose aim might be to draw a deeper meaning from events than mere facts can provide, but who do some violence to those puny facts.
Creating art from the events of the Holocaust remains as daunting as ever. Soon, those awful events will move beyond the reach of living memory while the need for testimony grows more pressing, not less. But the responsibilities of art are different from those of history: Theodor Adorno’s much-misrepresented dictum that “it is barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz” can simply be used as a lazy shorthand for refusing to engage with difficult and challenging creations.
Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Fiction // July was Reva’s month to fall apart. She slept through the alarm and ignored her husband’s attempts to rouse her. She showered sporadically. She added bourbon to her morning coffee. She stopped answering email, her cell phone, the door. She arrived late to the summer school class she was teaching and dismissed the students early.
Avi knew his sister would take the news badly. Seven years his junior, Avi’s sister was given to fits of feeling, storms of wild emotion. This evening, as Avi awaited his sister in his home, he adjusted the plates at the dining room table, wiped the insides of wine glasses with the bottom of his shirt and folded and re-folded the three maps he’d purchased that day—topographic, political, historical—and had fanned on the table’s end.