Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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18
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
CRUCIBLE OF CHANGE
As the title o f the volume o f stories testifies, this is an u rban
world in which enormous changes occur at the last m inute. Paley
p repa res for the momen t o f transform ation , guiding us to it, in
o rd e r to memorialize and celebrate tha t as tound ing instant and
the city world which makes it possible. H e r characters no less than
Augie March live and brea the the city world. They too are experts
in the quick remark , the swift reto rt: they too are language
makers, citizens o f tha t most volatile o f u rban elements as they
celebrate the moment o f unsuccess in o rd e r to rem ember the con­
ditions tha t might make its opposite available.
Let me carry my analysis forward not into the work o f Cynthia
Ozick which has received wide atten tion and interest bu t to the
work o f a less well known writer — Joh ann a Kaplan. H er recen t
novel
O My America
, also focuses on the u rban experience o f a
jou rna lis t and intellectual. Like Dean Corde, Ezra Slavin is a critic
o f the culture he lives in. Unlike him, however, he leads an an a r ­
chic life which m irrors the conflicting possibilities o f American
u rban culture.
Ez writes articles for newspapers and magazines, publishes
some books o f history, makes friends at various levels o f social
power yet remains an un rep en tan t radical. He takes advantage o f
several women, marrying some o f them , and having ch ildren by
o thers as well, though he does not participate in raising his p rog ­
eny. He teaches at a university, becorties a notable commentator
on the cu rren t cultural and political scene, and flees from city life
which, he claims has been destroyed by the automobile, to partici­
pate in a commune in Massachusetts from which he makes forays
into New York. Like the city he grows up in, Ez is in a constant
state o f irritation and discontent.
T h e novel focuses on his d augh te r ’s e ffo rt to reconstruct his
life in o rd e r to com p rehend how it has shaped hers. What does it
mean, Merry Slavin wonders, tha t h e r fa the r Ezra came to
America as a young boy and proceeded to construct a life for
himself, ranging from free-thinking to a concern for the fate o f
the Jews in the m odern world? What led him to his critical writing,
the sta ture o f his stance as a social critic, the ease with which he
moved from marriage to marriage? As I argue in my book,
City
Scriptures. Modern Jewish Writing
, this novel “dramatizes the act o f
read ing the story o f the generation o f Jews who escaped from