Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Gilgul of Park Avenue,” like much of Englander’s fiction, seemingly ends weakly. It concludes with Charles’s passively expressed hope that Sue, his wife, will find some way to accept him with his newly discovered Jewish soul. Englander has been identified as the heir apparent to Bernard Malamud, who has been called the king of the American Jewish story. His works also reveal direct roots in the classic Yiddish literature of the nineteenth century writers and in writers such as Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Englander includes humorous dialogue to develop each of the characters. Charles plays the straight man to each of the characters. For example, the interchange between Charles and the rabbi is humorous because Charles finds someone who seems to understand his peculiar revelation. In another scene, Charles refuses to take calls from the psychologist who seems to be the most logical person to help him.

The rabbi is a partially comic character. Although he dresses in traditional black garb to look scholarly, he reveals that he has recently experienced a calling from his soul to transform himself and give up a life of addiction to sorrow and drugs. The rabbi explains that the soul Charles possesses is Jewish. He gives Charles books that range from Jewish modern fiction to works on Jewish family purity to rabbinical tomes of law so that Charles will develop a better understanding of his newly discovered soul.

Sue is developed as a dynamic character whose physical pain from the root canal is measured against her emotional pain from losing her Christian husband. The symbolism of the root canal, in which a tooth root is lost, reflects Charles’s loss of his roots of fifty-five years. With proper care, the tooth whose root has been extracted will still function after the root canal is filled with another substance. Likewise, after his Christianity has been extracted, Charles will still function once his root (or soul) is filled with the guidelines of Judaism.