Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Singer presents his parables not as stories themselves but as stories within a story. This technique allows him to introduce pointed commentary, suggesting the rabbinic glosses on biblical and Talmudic texts. Sometimes these reflections are subtle, as when Jeremiah recites Psalm 135; Singer trusts that the reader will recall that psalm’s refrain, “For His mercy endures forever.” Elsewhere the comments are explicit. Thus, after listening to the first two stories, Meir observes, “What Squire Malecki was doing had nothing to do with pity.”

At the same time that the various observations highlight the theme, they emphasize the fact that Singer is offering fiction, not reportage. The artifice of the story-within-a-story calls attention to itself, as do the comments. When Levi Yitzchok questions the truth of Meir’s account of the life and death of Rabbi Joseph, Meir concedes that he has made up the narrative. When Zalman says that the stories have frightened him so that he hesitates to go home, Meir laughs at him: “The moon is shining. The heavens are bright. Evil is nothing but a coil of madness.”

As is often true in Singer’s stories, the last words are not really the last words. Meir is sane when the moon is waxing but crazy while it wanes. Before beginning his story, Meir looks outside to be sure that the moon is not yet full; because he does look, though, it must be close. Is this the night that divides the month? Can one trust Meir’s pronouncements? He has said that Malecki took money from the thieves and that Karlowski delighted in his wife’s infidelities. The text offers no support for these conclusions. Hence, his easy dismissal of evil at the end of the story is also suspect. The tales themselves are not reality, but they reflect reality as the moon reflects the sun and shines even though the moon produces no light of its own.

Singer chose this story to conclude The Collected Stories (1982). The selection is appropriate, for “Moon and Madness” combines artifice and truth, fiction and reality, in a manner that Singer has made his hallmark.