Writing Our Way Home

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In their introduction, the editors of WRITING OUR WAY HOME remark that the last significant general collection of American Jewish fiction appeared in 1977. The editor of that collection, in assembling work written from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, believed that he was memorializing the last currents of a stream of literature that was dwindling out in the face of the forces of acculturation. At that time it was generally accepted that, as the immigrant writers and those of the generation following them gave way to a third generation, a distinctly Jewish American literature would cease to exist. With this collection, Solotaroff and Rapoport offer ample evidence that contemporary American Jewish fiction is very much alive and flourishing. “Today,” they write, “the varieties of Jewish experience run the gamut from the Hasidic politics of Brooklyn to the gay congregations of Greenwich Village, from neo-Orthodox yuppies to New Age kabbalists.”

This sense of richness and diversity permeates the stories collected here. Each of the twenty-four writers finds something different in the rich mix of individual, cultural, and religious heritage from which to fashion fiction that is at once Jewish and American. The collection begins with a comically exuberant tale by Max Apple involving primal therapy, romance, and the narrator’s reenacted circumcision. It ends with a powerfully elegiac story by Eppie Zore’a which blends American idioms and Biblical allusions to tell the story of an Israeli couple who immigrate to America. A few of these stories have been anthologized frequently during the last several years — most notably E. L. Doctorow’s tragi-comic “The Writer in the Family,” Mark Helprin’s powerful evocation of men at war, “North Light — A Recollection in the Present Tense,” and Philip Roth’s erudite and moving “’I Have Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting’: or, Looking at Kafka.” For most readers, however, the majority of the pieces in this collection will be new and delightful discoveries — a collection in which, as the editors describe it, “The religious and the secular, the experimental and the traditional, the realistic and the surreal cohabit and even sometimes nuzzle, more or less peaceably.”