Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories by Thomas J. Hubschman

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories by Thomas J. Hubschman (2008, 168 pages)

In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection.   If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer.   I will post a bit on about half of the stories and then will try to say what I like about the collection and why I think it is worth reading.  Also there has been several articles on the net recently about book reviews, whether or not the reviewers actually read the books.   It is my view that by posting as I do, for better or worse, it is at least clear I have read the work.    I will also include the official author biography of Thomas J. Hubschman at the end of the post.

"Rough Justice", the lead story in the collection, is a very interesting brilliantly done story about the friendship of two middle class couples from New York City.   They live next door to each other and see themselves as quite close.   They do things together and have a comfortable routine.   The story is narrated by one of the men in the story.   They baby sit for each other's kids.   The men help each other with around the house projects and they even coordinate the landscaping on their houses.   The couples, according to the narrator, see each other as almost like family.   Then something happens that shatters their friendship and makes them look at everything in a new light.   I will tell you only what happened and leave the rest of the story untold so you can have the  pleasure of discovering it.   One of the men likes to take long walks in the morning.   On one of these walks he ends up getting arrested for sexually molesting a woman.  Of course at first his friends say it must just be a misunderstand and the accuser must just be a crazy woman.  Things take a bad turn when they find out the woman is a high powered business executive.  The author does a great job of letting us see how this will change things between the couples.  I really liked this story a lot and I thought the characters were very well developed. Hubschman leaves out a lot in this story and I am glad he did.

"The Jew's Wife", set in the United States shortly after World War II, is the title story of the collection.   It is about refuges , called displaced persons or "DPs", from Eastern Europe or Russia.   It is a very well done story about prejudice, the reversals of fortune and about the baggage of our histories.   The story is told in the first person by a man, we do not get his exact age but I am saying mid-fifties at least, who used to have a good life before the war.   We quickly learn of his hatred and contempt for Jews.   The worst thing about his new life in America is that he now has to work for one.   He is a married man, there is a lot of interesting thought provoking material on marriages in Hubschman's stories, married a long time and dedicated to his wife.    Maybe he does  does not want to know the terrible pain the Jew and his wife went through before coming to America. Worse maybe he supported what happened to Jews in Eastern Europe.  The ending of the story is really powerful.   I have never read before of such a sequence of events and such a hidden horror brought forward but still shielded from view.

"The Naked Woman" (I acknowledge the title got my attention) is another story about a long married couple.   The couples in Hubschman's stories are very bonded, deeply so but they are not cute, loving partners, far from it but I think that we can believe so strongly in their marriages shows the brilliance of the author.   There are only three real center stage characters in this story.   It is narrated by an unemployed 55 year old man.   Besides him we have his very long term wife and the woman he saw naked in front of her door in their apartment building one day.   (It was a New York style apartment with interior corridors.)   When he sees her in front of the door, she went out real quick to get her newspaper and did not bother to put any clothes on he thinks to himself it has been thirty years at least since he has seen a naked woman in the flash besides his wife, and to boot a very sexy looking one.    His wife has a job, they owned a concession stand in a theater selling snacks and such for many years and they liked to tell people they had been in the theater.   The theater closed down and now his wife supports him.   She heaps abuse on top of abuse on him, calling him all day long to be sure he has done the tasks he is supposed to around the house.   The he sees the other woman again and she asks him if he will come inside her place to look at a leaking faucet.   Now he begins to think about her and worse yet he is not home when his wife calls.    There is a lot more in this story and the ending really took me by surprise but I liked it a lot and it helped me understand a lot about the relationship of the couple.    The characters of the husband and wife and their fights are just perfect.  

"Fidelity"    is another story with a marriage at its center.   In this case it is the eight year old marriage of two attorneys.   The story is set in the New York City area.     The story is told by the woman.   She has just discovered that her husband, for the first time ever, has committed adultery with another woman, and just to put a dagger in it, a woman with quite large breasts.   She tells herself that she has never wanted to be with another man and when she tells her husband this he tells her, nothing like a matrimonial fight between two attorneys, that since she never wanted to cheat then she  not get any credit for not doing what she did not want to do in the first place.   He tells her that this is he first and will be the last time he ever cheats and she asks him if he wants a medal.   The fight is perfect.    In a very intriguing scene the woman does her workout routine, normally she does this close to naked but now she does not want to work out in front of her husband.   She begins to rethink their whole relationship.   He tries to court her back.  This is a great story about the permanent changes one incident can bring in a marriage.   I will leave the rest of the action unspoiled but the characters and conversations are spot on.

"I Am So Loving the Cello" takes place in  New York City, in the Bronx area. The plot action takes place in a  six story building, most all of the occupants are professionals and one of them is a famous cello player, Arthur Aranoff.   It is told by the daughter of one of the families of the building.    Her father is a furrier.   His wife is much more cultured than he is and he is proud of that fact.   She always tells him that he is an artist just like Mr. Aranoff only his medium is fur.   He knows his wife is really trying to make him feel good about himself and tells her no I just cut up animal skins for  rich women.   There is a lot of controversy in the building because the cello player practices all day long.   On a day during dinner the wife of the furrier tells him the cello player will soon be playing in a radio concert with a lot of prestige and he ends up losing his appetite for her baked chicken which he normally loves.   The man hates Aranoff and decides on a way to "settle his hash".   I will not say what happens but it is just so funny and it creates a huge secret bond between the daughter and father than lasts forever.   It is also, like the other stories, a very good portrayal of conversations between a married couple.

"Company" is another story about a long term relationship, in this case between two men.   Jack and the narrator are kind of  the grasshopper and the ant from the old fable.   Jack is a practical sensible one woman man who has his life in very good order.   They were roommates in college and have been friends for nearly two decades.   The narrator and his wife have been wining and dining him and his various wives for a long time.   Jack is an artist whose work does not sell.   His first wife, who the narrator and his wife really liked, supported Jack so he could paint.    A homeless man enters there life and brings an unexpected realization of somethings that they might have preferred to have left unknown.   Like the others, this is a very well written story.

"The Virgin" takes us out of New York City to Ireland, though the lead male character is a New York living in Ireland.  He has been there long enough so he thinks he can tell a Cork accent from a Dublin one.   It  also is a different story in that it does not focus on a long term couple.   As the story opens the man, the story is told in the third person, is listening to Margo Donnelly talking to the host of a radio call in talk show.   He was surprised to hear a woman he had been working with for three years on the radio.   They worked in different departments and did not really see each other that much but today they run into each other twice.  As I read this I had a funny feeling maybe Margo was not a woman and I wondered if the man in question knew that.   The story of how they become a couple is really interesting and totally a lot of fun to read.

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories is Thomas J. Hubschman's first collection of short stories.   There are 14 stories in the collection.   Besides the ones I featured there is a story about a wild Halloween party, a neighbor who gets arrested for child molesting and a riveting story about a religious event as well as a great story about Catholic nuns.   Most of the stories are set in New York city, the characters are well rooted in this environment.

I really liked this collection and am so glad I read it.   I think his conversations between long term married couples are perfect, the good scenes where you can feel the happiness in relationship and the nasty fights that  sometimes happen were perfectly realized..   The people in the stories were very believable.

Hubschman is a great short story writer, a master at the craft.   I recommend this book to any and all.  He writes, to my mind in the tradition of Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov.

Official Author Biography

 Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, Billy Boy, My
 Bess and The Jew's Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction
 novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish
 Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications.
 Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service. He
 has also edited two
 anthologies of new writing from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

You can learn more about his work on his two blogs and his webpage.

You can learn more about him and his work on his webpage and his two blogs, one devoted to his music.

Mel u

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Thanks for introducing me to Thomas J. Hubschman. The Naked Woman sounds like an interesting story I would really like to read, especially when you said that part that "the characters of the husband and wife and their fights are just perfect".