The Jewish Angle

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NATHAN ENGLANDER
IN BLACK AND WHITE

by DAVID HOLZEL

THE AUTHOR OF THIS YEAR'S MOST TALKED ABOUT JEWISH BOOK -- FOR THE RELIEF OF UNBEARABLE URGES -- IS CERTAINLY HAIR TODAY. BUT WHAT ABOUT TOMORROW?


Let's clear a few things about Nathan Englander out of the way. Yes he's only 29. Then there's the reported $350,000 advance he received from Alfred A. Knopf publishers for his first book, For The Relief of Unbearable Urges, a hefty sum for an unknown writer. And finally there's his hair, those tresses that make you wonder if they are the secret to his strength—as if he were Samson and the media and reading public were the fortified cities of the Philistines.

Having said all that leaves us with Englander himself, and his fiction, particularly the nine short stories contained in For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. They grow out of Englander's core experience—being raised an Orthodox Jew. In life, Englander has left the Orthodox world. But as in a dream, it continues to pulse through his fiction in surprising and often disturbing ways. The yeshiva student who viewed Orthodoxy in black and white terms became the author of tragi-comic prose whose characters search for the elusive wiggle room in their lives.




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