The Rabbi of Lud (Magill Book Reviews)
Jerry Goldkorn is the rabbi of Lud, a town in northern New Jersey where all the living residents are transients and all the permanent ones are dead, for Lud is a “company town” operated by the rabbi’s employers, owners of the town’s cemeteries. Goldkorn’s ministry is confined to burying the dead, a job that all too nicely fits the man, for Goldkorn, who never felt called to his vocation, was trained at an “offshore” yeshiva situated on the Maldive Islands and rather willingly accepts the fact that he is less a rabbi than a part of a burial package offered to the bereaved by the rabbi’s employers. Such a man in such a job must necessarily undergo the most absurd crisis of faith in all of literature: a schlemiel’s dark night of the soul, a considerably less than divine comedy.
In a flashback to the “sabbatical” year he spent as rabbi of the Alaska pipeline, the extent of Goldkorn’s absurd dilemma becomes even clearer as the gap between his benignly confident “rabbi mode” and his less professionally practiced and more human doubts widen: “Dread and awe ... were hard in such a awesome, dreadful world,” he learns, but no harder than in the suck-and-sell of his ironic hometown of Lud, where death is big business and fear is so rampant that AIDS victims have to be smuggled into their perpetual-care burial plots so as not to frighten off those who will be dying of less infectious causes. The absurdity of Goldkorn’s situation is...
(The entire section is 438 words.)
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The Rabbi of Lud (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
“The proof of a poet,” wrote Walt Whitman at the very end of the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, “is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Whitman never was “absorbed” by his America with anything approaching the tenacious affection with which he absorbed it. The same fate seems to be shared by the most Whitmanic of contemporary American writers, Stanley Elkin, who deserves as wide an audience as possible, for his is arguably the most distinctly American prose being written today, situated as it is in an America that is at once geographical and verbal. Together, his novels and handful of short stories comprise a linguistic landscape in which not only the settings and subjects but also the inflections, rhythms, idioms, and (most important) the obsessive syntax (the syntax of obsession) are entirely native-born. One does not merely read an Elkin novel, any more than one merely reads one of Whitman’s poems. One listens to it, to its overpowering energy and its equally overpowering art of exaggeration: his pushing everything—from plot and character to voice and good taste—to the limit, and beyond. Elkin’s debt, or rather his resemblance, to Whitman is modified by his kinship with Mark Twain; an Elkin novel often seems to take place where Huck Finn, grown a bit older, meets Albert Einstein, where vernacular narrative meets the theory of relativity. To his Whitman and Twain, Elkin adds a dose of...
(The entire section is 2386 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
Booklist. LXXXIV, September 15, 1987, p. 90.
Chicago Tribune. November 4, 1987, V, p. 3.
New York. XX, October 12, 1987, p. 88
The New York Times. October 29, 1987, III, p. 25.
The New York Times Book Review. XCII, November 8, 1987, p. 12.
The Washington Post Book World. XVII, November 29, 1987, p. 4.
(The entire section is 38 words.)