Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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RIBALOW / DEVILS, JEWS AND I. B. SINGER
13
SHORTER PIECES
One can linger over o the r Singer novels and po in t ou t how they
d iffer from — o r resemble — the two discussed here. But I pass
on to the short stories,17 many o f which are un ique and vivid,
brilliant and perhaps supe rio r as literature to Singer’s longer
works.
In the stories, the read e r is in troduced to gnomes, devils, evil
spirits, folklorist them es and mystical Cabbalists. T h e re are
shlemiels and spirits made o f “cobwebs” with “donkey’s ears and
wax ho rns .” T he imagination o f the writer run s ram pan t bu t
somehow the reade r is caught up in Singer’s private world o f
shadows which reaches outward and blends with ou r own private
worlds and becomes, suddenly, a more open public universe.
T he stories in
Gimpel the Fool
are remarkable tales and they
rema in so in English, o r I suspect, in Japanese. More often than
not, the heroes are devils and the apprentices o f devils. T he re are
stories o f lust and desire and greed. T h e re are humorous stories,
but hum o r so twisted tha t one can appreciate the artistry o f the
telling only in the reading.
In the title story, Gimpel is a shlemiel, the bu tt o f everyone’s
practical jokes, a man who always receives the worst o f a deal. He
is ma rried to a cruel shrew who is unfaithfu l to him and bears
o the r m en ’s children. Nevertheless, Gimpel retains his belief in
her and , unlike his wife, he himself remains a faithful husband to
her. However, when she lies on h e r deathbed , she confesses tha t
none o f h e r six children are Gimpel’s. Now, because she is dying
I made these notes, before I wrote it, I was looking to see how the story should
be developed. So for a moment, it occurred to me that maybe Jacob should
become so embittered with the Jews and so in love with Wanda that he should
convert. After a while, I decided, no, it should be the reverse: Wanda should
convert. This shows me that a writer, like everyone else, can make the right
decision after you go through a score of possibilities o f bad decisions.”
17 Many o f his stories were first published in English in the
New Yorker
magazine.
Others appeared in prestigious periodicals, including
Encounter, Commentary,
Esquire
and
Present Tense.
Even
Playboy
accepted his work frequently. Singer has
carefully collected them in various volumes:
Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories,
1957;
The Spinoza ofMarket Street, 1961
;
Short Friday and Other Stories,
1964;
A
Friend ofKafka and OtherStories,
1970;
The Seanceand, OtherStories,
1968;
A Crown
ofFeathers,
1974;
Passions,
1975.
In My Father’s Court,
1966, is officially a book of
memoiristic sketches, all based on actual events. Singer concedes, however, that
considerable imagination has been woven into the telling and I think o f this as
another volume of his tales.